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Maine Hospital Price Lists: Everything’s Better Up North

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You know how you cross the border into Maine and suddenly the air feels cleaner and the pine trees tower higher? And the big blue sign welcomes you to “The way life should be”?

Turns out the sign applies to hospital price information, too — at least, more than it does in Massachusetts. I happened to be in a York Hospital lobby in southern Maine yesterday, and came upon a notice informing me that under state law, I had the right to ask for a list of the average price tags on all the most common procedures. Very transparent, I thought, impressed. It sure would be great to post that list on WBUR’s Healthcare Savvy social network.

Turns out it’s not so simple, though. I called York Hospital this morning and they haven’t gotten back to me yet, so I tried the Maine Hospital Association. Jeffrey Austin, the group’s vice president and lobbyist, gave me a very helpful rundown of the background on Maine’s price list. Our conversation, lightly distilled:

What’s the story of this price list?

Around ten years ago or so, Maine law was amended to require hospitals to provide the prices of common procedures. But paper lists are something of a “horse and buggy” version of price transparency, and about four years ago, Maine established an online database — run by the Maine Health Data Organization and funded by the hospitals and the health insurers. It’s publicly accessible and interactive, so you can “one-stop-shop” for common procedures. (The “HealthCost” section is here.) Continue reading