Gee, hospital administrators aren’t interested in consumers figuring out who gets special deals, imagine that.
President Trump signed an order requiring hospitals to publish the rates they negotiate with insurance companies for many common procedures. Hospital administrators howled about the order, but Trump signed it anyway. Now the hospitals are complying with the letter of the law, but not the spirit.
They have published the previously confidential prices to comply with a new federal rule, but have also blocked that information from web searches with special coding embedded on their websites, according to a Wall Street Journal examination.
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.
The code keeps pages from appearing in searches, such as those related to a hospital’s name and prices, computer-science experts said. You can still get to the prices, but it takes a lot more work, going through multiple pages.
Chirag Shah, an associate professor at the University of Washington who studies human interactions with computers, said:
“It’s technically there, but good luck finding it. 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.”
But hospital administrators are claiming they didn’t hide anything, either saying that the code was a mistake or that they did it to make sure users read disclaimers. Right. It can’t be that hospitals didn’t want to publish the information in the first place.
An HCA spokesman said the search blocker was “a legacy code that we’ve removed.” Avera, Ballad, Beaumont and Northern Light said the code had been left on their websites by mistake. A Gundersen Health System spokesman said a website vendor had inserted the code. “It’s not clear why,” he said.