Clark Howard: Online hospital prices help people without insurance most

A new federal rule means hospitals will have to start posting the prices of their services online starting Jan. 1, but our Consumer Warrior Clark Howard says that's just a symbolic first step.

"The reason it's only a first step, is virtually no one is billed full retail price visiting a hospital except for people who don't have insurance," Howard says.

He says the price you see posted online by the hospital will actually be a lot higher than the bill you will actually get if you have insurance.

Howard says hospital systems will push you to have diagnostic tests done at one of their facilities, but that's usually not going to be the cheapest way to do it.

"You can comparison shop place to place as long as it's not a life-threatening emergency," Howard says.

But he says it's much harder for you to shop around based on the new listed prices if you have insurance because it's hard to tell what the actual price is. Howard says ultimately Congress will have to require hospitals to provide the price you pay based on the insurance plan you have.

"That's the only way you and I will be able comparison shop from one facility to another," Howard says.

But he says the new rule is a step in the right direction.

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