Remember the Firestone tire defects of the late 1990s and 2000 that caused Ford Explorer SUVs to be involved in several accidents and deaths? How much would it matter if compensation for any accident and injury also included the free replacement of the defective tires?
Using this analogy I was initially underwhelmed by the Provencare offering of Geisinger Hospitals Group of Philadelphia that featured in a May 17 story in the New York Times . Geisinger offers a "90 day warranty" on some surgeries that it performs, promising not to bill insurers if extra procedures or care results from any complications.
If negligence on the hospital's part causes complications, the cost of follow-up surgery would pale in comparison to malpractice claims, and in any case I'd expect such care to be offered for free by any hospital to stave off a lawsuit. The 40 point checklist of care that Geisinger introduced is also not a new concept. And they've only introduced the system so far for one type of procedure - heart by-passes.
On more reflection and a little research though, there are good things to be said for the Geisinger initiative. At least they're starting to do what all US hospitals should have been practicing all along - offering a flat rate for standard procedures, and hopefully having a more transparent and simplified pricing system.
I'm amazed how hard it is for patients to get the "real" pricing information - even average or ballpark - out of US hospitals when many good foreign hospitals including those serving medical tourists will readily provide a "tariff list" that details the package and individual costs that patients will need to pay. US hospital bills come piecemeal even for a single procedure. Apart from this being an offshoot of a chaotic and complex billing system I also suspect that hospitals don't want the total charges to be easily known, as they're so high in absolute terms as well as compared to hospitals abroad.
Back to the story in the NYT, from the reported figures it looks that Geisinger would charge a total of about $37,000 for a "warrantied" heart bypass. If true, that's a bargain as the discounted or negotiated insurer rate without any such warranty averages almost twice as high for a typical US hospital. Geisinger's heart surgery outcomes and statistical information also looks very favorable compared to peer US hospitals.
So in the end I'll set aside my initial skepticism of this being just hype, assume the facts are correctly reported, and cautiously applaud the initiative at Geisinger as a precursor for better practices.