Tulane Health CEO slams ‘Cracking the Code’ work; meanwhile, New Orleans woman saves $3,786 with our data

Filed Under: Costs, Health plans, Patients

As we wrap up our first three weeks of reporting on health care pricing in the New Orleans metro area, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve been able to save some people large amounts of money — and the medical establishment in the area is not universally happy with our work.

“Tulane Medical Center president and CEO William Lunn distributed an email to his medical staff about our story, writing, ‘We are extremely disappointed in the tone and intent of these stories. Despite the media’s claims, they have not been developed with an interest in explaining the healthcare process or helping consumers understand their care,'” our partner Lee Zurik at WVUE FOX 8 Live wrote in his piece summing up our work so far, Tulane Health chief slams ‘Cracking the Code,’ aired on May 25.

“FOX 8 and our partners developed our stories to bring transparency to healthcare pricing in the metro area, or at least give patients questions to ask before they schedule a visit or procedure.

“The Tulane email added that our stories ‘were developed in a continuing theme of painting healthcare providers as greedy and opportunistic, with our patients as unwitting victims.’

“Tulane Medical Center is owned by HCA Healthcare, a for-profit company.

The email goes on to say, “Absent in these stories is any responsibility on the part of health insurance companies – which have much more say in what a patient actually pays than do providers – or employers who are continuing to shift employees to high-deductible plans.” For more, click here: Tulane Health chief slams ‘Cracking the Code,’

She saved $3,786 using our data

“It was only after her doctor recommended she get an abdominal MRI that a New Orleans woman learned just how costly it can be to have a medical procedure without first shopping around,” writes our partner Jed Lipinski in his latest piece in “Cracking the Code” over at NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune.

“The woman, who asked to remain anonymous in order to discuss her health, said her doctor suggested the MRI to help her understand a hereditary condition that might affect her years from now. A month later, the day before the test, she got a call from Tulane Medical Center asking how she planned to pay for it, she said.

“The woman asked how much it was. She was told, ‘Well, your deductible is $5,000,’ she recalled. … When the representative finally called back, the woman said, she was told the cost would be $4,458 out-of-pocket — essentially the portion of her annual deductible that she had yet to use….

“Shocked by the price, the woman checked the PriceCheck online tool of health care prices collected by NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News. She discovered that another provider in Metairie charged $672 for the same procedure. She immediately canceled her appointment at Tulane and, a week later, got the MRI at the other facility. The decision, she said, saved her $3,786.” For more, click here: She saved $3,786 by shopping her MRI; here’s how you can save, too, NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune.

For a full first-person statement from this woman, here’s our blog post.

Full Tulane statement from CEO

Here’s the full Tulane statement from the CEO, as forwarded to us by several sources. Our partners asked for comment but did not hear back. We are reproducing the statement in full, with a few notes.

From the office of William Lunn, M.D., President and Chief Executive Officer – Tulane Health System

Dear Tulane staff and physicians,

You are likely aware of a recent series of media stories on hospital billing, many of which include Tulane Health System hospitals or clinics as well as other healthcare systems, locally and nationally.

We are extremely disappointed in the tone and intent of these stories. Despite the media’s claims, they have not been developed with an interest in explaining the healthcare process or helping consumers understand their care – they were developed in a continuing theme of painting healthcare providers as greedy and opportunistic, with our patients as unwitting victims. [ClearHealthCosts note: We have been very careful to help people understand what things cost. If patients tell us they feel like unwitting victims, over and over again, perhaps health care workers would wish to listen to those voices.]

Absent in these stories is any responsibility on the part of health insurance companies – which have much more say in what a patient actually pays than do providers – or employers who are continuing to shift employees to high-deductible plans. [ClearHealthCosts noteWe have talked a lot about insurance companies and about high-deductible plans. Anyone who needs to re-read our coverage can find a full inventory here on our “partnership” page. We would also welcome comment from HCA Healthcare, the giant hospital chain that is the parent of Tulane Medical Center; HCA is one of the hospitals in the New Orleans area that has declined to provide cash or self-pay prices for our database.]

Additionally, there is no discussion of quality or service, for which Tulane Health System is known and recognized throughout the country. Healthcare is not a commodity, nor, frankly is it in consumers’ best interest to only base healthcare conditions on cost. While certainly a factor, consumers should also consider the skill, training and experience of their physicians, the quality of the facility itself, amenities they deem important, etc. [ClearHealthCosts note: While price transparency is broken in health care, quality transparency is also broken. If there were any meaningful, believable, actionable quality metrics, we would incorporate them into our work yesterday. Sadly, the health care system seems unable to put forth any such metrics. Meanwhile, there’s a welter of efforts by the federal government, industry trade groups, regulators, consumer groups like Consumer Reports and Yelp and others, all well-meaning, and some better than others, but none really actionable for an individual seeking to make a decision about where to go to get care Right Now. So the patient  — or person, as we like to call her — hears Tulane saying “We’re better!” and Ochsner saying “We’re better!”  And she’s left scratching her head.]

Healthcare providers do not benefit from this incredibly complex and burdensome reimbursement system. As you well know, many of the costs associated with healthcare are devoted to caring for highly complex patients we treat at Tulane, the growing expenses of caring for the uninsured as well as the cost of ancillary and support staff and equipment. [ClearHealthCosts note: HCA Healthcare, the Tulane parent, is a for-profit company, traded publicly, and so we can see that the stock is performing handsomely.] 

Our healthcare system is complex and far from perfect. As compassionate healthcare providers we are dedicated – as much as ever– to patient care and helping people heal than the aspect of our industry on which our local media has unfortunately decided to focus. [ClearHealthCosts note: People want to know what stuff costs.]

We have communicated these same ideas to media repeatedly, and will continue to do so. Thank you for helping us communicate our stance to your patients and – more importantly – thank you for the unparalleled care and compassion you provide those who trust us with their care.

Sincerely,

William Lunn, MD
President & Chief Executive Officer
Tulane Health System

For more from our series, go to this page describing the Cracking the Code partnership of NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune, WVUE FOX 8 Live and ClearHealthCosts, and cataloging our news coverage. For more on our national partnerships, go to this page.

DID YOU SAVE money with information from ClearHealthCosts or “Cracking the Code”?  Tell us by email at info@clearhealthcosts.com or health@fox8live.com.

DO YOU HAVE PRICES to share to help build our community-created guide to health care? Or are you looking for price information?

Click over to our New Orleans PriceCheck interactive software at WVUE Fox 8 Live and at NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune. Search our prices in our New Orleans-focused partnership. For non-New Orleans shares and searches, here’s the search and share page on our national ClearHealthCosts site.

ARE YOU A PROVIDER wishing to share prices?

This page has a sample spreadsheet showing the data that will let us include your prices. Download, fill it out and return to us at info@clearhealthcosts.com or health@fox8live.com.