Cost of care an unknown for Vermont patients - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Cost of care an unknown for Vermont patients

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The modern consumer does homework before making a purchase. They search for deals online, compare prices and read quality reviews.

"You won't get that at a hospital," Vt. Auditor Doug Hoffer said.

Hoffer says Vermonters should have the ability to know what planned procedures will cost, as they do at the dentist's office. Costs-- both for patients and insurers-- can vary widely between hospitals for the same operation. A recent report compiled by the auditor's staff concludes Vermont falls short of a requirement to provide that info online.

"Deductibles have gone up, so consumers have taken a greater responsibility for out-of-pocket costs. And to that extent it becomes even more important for us to know what the hell am I going to be paying for this procedure or that procedure, and we never knew," Hoffer said.

The data would come from the state's Vermont Health Care Uniform Reporting and Evaluation System, or VHCURES for short, which catalogues almost every health insurance claim paid in Vermont over the last seven years. The Green Mountain Care Board took over responsibility for the software project last summer. The data is being used to shape policy and hospital budgets, but is not yet in a form available to consumers.

"Why they chose to work on those but not this one, I don't know. They made their own priorities," Hoffer said.

"And the answer is it's really complicated," said Al Gobeille, chairman of the Green Mountain Care Board.

Gobeille says the cost of care at any given facility is determined by such a wide variety of factors that creating an easy to understand platform cannot be rushed. He notes that the law does not specify a date for the consumer information to become available.

"Our job is larger than just VHCURES, and larger than just a website with price; our job is to moderate cost in the entire system. VHCURES in an integral component in that, but it is not the entire show," Gobeille said.

Gobeille says the board reached similar conclusions about the direction the project needs to head and is preparing to contract out the necessary work for a new system, with work beginning in the fall.

Gobeille says if the state transitions to a single-payer system, variances between the costs at various facilities should decrease. The auditor says even without insurance competition some providers will still charge more, and Vermonters should have the information-- along with quality information-- available to them.

The auditor's office is also in the midst of conducting two risk reviews for an audit of the Vermont Health Exchange. That should come out later this year, and they say they will continue looking into various components of the system going forward.

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