Tag Archives: prices

InCity Voices: UMass Medical Center – outrageous prices and the run-around

By Daniela Munoz Maines

My name is Daniela. I am writing this [letter] because I am very frustrated and I would like my story to be known to others. Specially others that might be in our same situation.

My husband and I live in Oxford. Masshealth has qualified us to be on Health Safety Net Partial. Health Safety Net is a program for low or moderate income people who do not have access to health insurance or cannot afford it. In the case of HSN Partial, this means we are responsible for a portion, or all the costs of medical services till we meet our deductible, which is set by Masshealth according to our income. It is not clear to us in which circumstances we have to pay 100% of the costs, or a portion. It is also not clear how much of a portion that would be. The Health Safety Net help line informs that the hospitals and/or community centers are the ones that determine that. However, I can tell you that in a recent visit to UMASS Medical Center Hahnemman campus, I could hardly find any information at all.

Furthermore, when I tried to find out the price for an ultrasound, it was quite a challenge. My doctor’s office did not have access to prices, the billing department did not have access either and financial counseling directed me to a one single person who could give me that information. As you see, it took me phone calls to 3 different departments till I got to the right place. But this didn’t end here. This person needed a CPT code in able to give me a price. So there was I again on the phone, calling my doctor’s office, then radiology, to find out the code. In both instances they told me they did not have access to the CPT codes. I did some research online and found out that CPT codes are only available for a fee. After doing online searches for hours, I came across a report which had the CPT code for the ultrasound I needed.

Finally I got the price………. sort of. This person was able to give me the price for the hospital fee but wasn’t able to give me the price for the additional interpretation of the results. In any case, the price she quoted me was $706, when at other health centers was around $200. I decided to have the ultrasound done at a different facility, for which I needed the order from my doctor’s office at Hahnemman. And here we go again…………………2 days and several phone calls to make this happen. It is clear to me that the hospital makes a concerted effort not to disclose their prices while at the same time trying to keep you from going somewhere else.

In addition, I received a bill for the appointment, 2 lab tests and a flu shot for $759. After further scrutiny of each charge, I found them to be, again, 3 to 5 times more than fair market value, based on information provided by http://healthcarebluebook.com/. I also checked with Quest labs for pricing, which, I was informed, had bought the hospitals labs. The hospital charged me $450 for a TSH test for which Quest labs charges $120.60. They’ve also charged me $154 for a Vitamin D 25 test. When I confronted the hospital billing department with their pricing, the response, via email, was:” Umass goes by the Federal Law guidelines”. Interestingly, in a conversation with a financial lead, he said it was the state which regulated the prices. When I asked what that regulation exactly was, no one could give me a response. So I searched myself, and I could only find regulation 114.3 at http://www.mass.gov/eohhs/gov/laws-regs/hhs/regs.html#114_6_13. Specifically 114.3 CMR 20.00 lists a TSH test (CPT 84443) $17.98 and Vitamin D 25 (CPT 82306) $31.68. I sent an email to http://www.mass.gov/chia/ requesting additional information on any other regulations not posted in their website, but I don’t have an answer as of now.

I’ve also started a petition http://signon.org/sign/your-right-to-know-hospital?source=c.fwd&r_by=4767040 which, I am hoping will get more signatures in the near future.

So my point is: People on Health Safety Net, like us, are precisely the ones that should not be charged prices that are 3/5 times more than fair market value. But more importantly, these people have the right to know the prices before they accept them. There is no other business that can get away with not disclosing it’s fees prior to providing services…none. Why are hospitals different?

I do not know if all hospitals give you the round-around as UMASS does, but I do know that somebody should do something about this.

Don’t let the drought dry up your wallet

By Heather Moore

Dry enough for you? No one needs to be reminded that the nation is experiencing the worst drought in half a century, with nearly two-thirds of the continental U.S. suffering from drought conditions. The dry, hot weather is fueling wildfires, scorching lawns and sending food prices soaring—especially for people who eat meat, eggs and dairy products.

If you’re concerned about your grocery bills—or your health—now would be a good time to start buying vegan foods instead of animal-based ones.

Farmed animals are fed more than 70 percent of the grains grown in the U.S. It takes 4.5 pounds of grain to make just 1 pound of chicken meat and 7.3 pounds of grain to produce a pound of pork. Now that many corn, wheat and soybean crops have been damaged or destroyed because of the drought, feed prices are soaring. It’s so bad that some meat companies, including Smithfield Foods, have even started importing corn from Brazil. Guess who’s going to foot the bill?

Meat-eaters can expect to see a spike in prices in the coming months. Consumers who eat cheese will probably also have to pick up the tab for all the calves who died from heat stress on Midwestern dairy farms in July.

Shoppers will likely see higher prices at the chicken counter first, though. The birds are fed mostly corn, and since chicken farmers engineer them to grow unnaturally fast, chicken flesh tends to reach the market quicker than beef or pork.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that chicken and turkey prices will rise 3.5 to 4.5 percent and that egg prices will likely climb by as much as 4 percent. Beef prices are also expected to rise between 3.5 and 4.5 percent this year and then by 4 or 5 percent in 2013. Pork will cost more in the coming year as well.

It’s cheaper, not to mention healthier and kinder, to eat grains and soybeans—and all the foods that can be made from them—directly rather than funneling them through farmed animals to produce animal products. The amount of feed needed to produce one 8-ounce steak would fill 45 to 50 bowls with cooked cereal grains. And while shoppers will see a spike in milk and meat prices, they probably won’t see a significant increase in the cost of corn on the cob, cornflakes or other plant-based foods sold in supermarkets. The corn that consumers buy at the grocery store is grown differently from the corn that’s used to feed animals and isn’t as severely affected by drought conditions.

Whole grains, beans, vegetables and other wholesome plant-based foods are even more of a bargain when you factor in the medical bills that you might rack up if you eat lots of fatty, cholesterol-laden meats, eggs and dairy products.

Of course, choosing vegan foods isn’t just a good way to save animals or money at the supermarket. It’s also an easy way to help conserve water—you can save more water by not eating 1 pound of meat than you can by not showering for six months. Even a collaborative rain dance likely wouldn’t make that much of a difference!

Whether you’re watching your budget, your waistline or just the weather channel, it’ll pay to go vegan. But if you need some extra exercise, feel free to do a rain dance anyway.

Textbook Rebellion’ National Tour Visits Worcester State

Traveling Textbook Mascots Rally Support At Local Colleges To Halt Rising Prices

 
WORCESTER– Yesterday, two larger-than-life textbook mascot characters joined forces with students at Worcester State College to rally support for solutions to the rapidly rising cost of textbooks.  The mascots visited campus as part of a six-week, cross-country tour organized by the ‘Textbook Rebellion,’ a coalition of students, faculty and organizations in support of affordable textbooks that MASSPIRG helped launch earlier this year.

 
“Textbook prices have been skyrocketing more than four times the rate of inflation, and it’s become a serious issue for many students and their families,” said Abe Scarr, Organizing Director for MASSPIRG, the Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group.  “However, solutions are out there.  Between used books, rental programs and longer-term alternatives like open textbooks, there is potential to reduce costs dramatically – we just need to raise awareness.”
Over the next two months, the Textbook Rebellion will visit 40 campuses nationwide collecting signatures on a petition that will help educate professors about affordable options and call on decision-makers to support cost-reducing solutions.  The petition specifically highlights open textbooks, part of the growing movement of open educational resources, which are learning materials made freely available for everyone to use.
 
“Open Educational Resources are critical in helping us meet the President’s 2020 goal: to make America number one in the world for college graduates,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan in a statement released last week. “These free resources can create high-quality educational opportunities for students, veterans and returning workers, grow our economy, and help us out-educate, out-innovate and outcompete the rest of the world.”

The Worcester event was held in the evening, and despite low traffic on campus generated 39 petition signatures, bringing the total to 1,286 since the tour launched last Wednesday.  The campaign is on track to meet its national goal of 10,000 signatures by mid-October.
 
The Textbook Rebellion will continue on from Worcester to hold events in Boston, Lowell and the South Shore.  The statewide signature goal is 800.
 
“Students are really suffering,” said Nicole Allen, Textbook Advocate for the Student PIRGs. “However, they are also in a position to usher in change.  This tour will help inspire students across the country to take action against rising costs by advocating for affordable options, like open textbooks, that are already out there today.”
 
The latest research from MASSPIRG underscores the urgent need to reduce textbook costs.  An alarming 70% of students surveyed this spring reported not purchasing one or more of their assigned textbooks because the cost was too high.  Of those students, 78% said they generally believed that they would do worse in their courses without the required materials. 
 
The College Board estimates that the average student will spend $1,137 on textbooks each year.  A Government Accountability Office study found that textbook costs are comparable to 26% of tuition at public four-year colleges and 72% of tuition at community colleges.  Unnecessary new editions, expensive bundles and e-books that expire are common publishing industry tactics that have been found to increase costs.