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U.S. hospitals hide pricing data from search results

Christian Fernsby |
U.S. hospitals that have published their previously confidential prices to comply with a new federal rule have also blocked that information from web searches with special coding embedded in their websites, reported The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.

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Topics: U.S.   

The information must be disclosed under a federal rule aimed at making the 1 trillion U.S. dollars sector more consumer-friendly, but hundreds of hospitals embedded code in their websites that prevented Alphabet Inc.'s Google and other search engines from displaying pages with the price lists, according to the Journal's examination of more than 3,100 sites.

The code keeps pages from appearing in searches, such as those related to a hospital's name and prices, computer-science experts said. The prices are often accessible in other ways, such as through links that can require clicking through multiple layers of pages, the report wrote.

"It's technically there, but good luck finding it," the report quoted Chirag Shah, an associate professor at the University of Washington who studies human interactions with computers, as saying.

"It's one thing not to optimize your site for searchability, it's another thing to tag it so it can't be searched. It's a clear indication of intentionality," Shah told the newspaper.

Among the websites where the Journal found the blocking code were those for some of the biggest U.S. healthcare systems and some of the largest hospitals in cities including New York and Philadelphia. After the Journal approached some hospitals about its findings, the search-blocking code was removed from their sites.

U.S. hospitals are supposed to disclose price information that they have long kept secret to comply with a federal rule that took effect on Jan. 1 as part of the effort to increase transparency in healthcare pricing for insurers to negotiate for many hospital services.

These prices have been opaque even to employers and consumers who pay for insurance coverage and can vary widely depending on who pays, said the Journal.

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