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Health--it's what we all have in common: whether we're trying to maintain our health through good habits or improve our failing health. "Bridges to Health" is 90.5 WESA's health care reporting initiative examining everything from unintended consequences of the Affordable Care Act to transparency in health care costs; from a lack of access to quality care for minority members of our society to confronting the opioid crisis in our region. It's about our individual health and the well-being of our community.Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.

Transparency Requests Yield Hospital's First Online Price Tool

St. Clair Hospital in the South Hills is making at least one portion of the health care system a little more transparent. 

The hospital has just rolled out an online toolthat allows potential patients to find out what the hospital will charge them for more than 150 procedures.

“We are very sensitive to the amounts that patients pay in out-of-pocket costs,” said Richard Chesnos, chief financial officer of St. Clair Hospital. “We decided that we wanted to give the patients the same information they get after receiving services but now provided to them before services when it is more helpful to them.”

The tool can be accessed from the hospital’s main website and gives costs based on the individual patient’s insurance policy, including details of where they stand on their deductible and co-pays.

The hospital has offered similar service estimates to individuals who called the hospital since 2011. Chesnos said the website improves the service by making it more convenient and available 24 hours a day.

The project was born, in part, from focus groups including the hospital’s former patients, he said.

“People want to have some certainty in the cost of their procedure,” Chesnos said. “How they use it is really up to the patient.” 

St. Clair Hospital has focused on improving its quality of care in recent years, with the goal of being in the top 10 percent for all of the procedures they offer, according to chief medical officer G. Alan Yeasted.

The website only includes the costs charged by the hospital; it doesn’t account for any additional fees a patient could incur.

“We are continuing to refine this product,” Chesnos said. “We know the next steps for us would be to incorporate the physician fees too. But we wanted to provide what our patients are asking, ‘How much is our hospital bill?’ And then our next steps would be to work in the physician fees and the other accompanying fees.”

The Consumer Health Coalitionsaid there is a growing demand for price transparency.

“Which is critical in this day and age for anyone, because of the deductibles and co-pays that have been added on to most of us,” said Lou Ann Jeremko, the coalition's executive director.

Some insurance providers, including Highmark, have posted online tools to help their customers estimate costs. St. Clair officials said it’s the first hospital in the region to provide this type of data online.

Health care coverage on 90.5 WESA is made possible in part by a grant from the Jewish Healthcare Foundation.