South Carolina Hospital Association

Resources For Consumers

  • How much do I really owe?
    • Every insurer, whether Medicare, Medicaid or commercial, pays the hospital differently and shares the cost with the patient differently. In fact, what kind of health coverage you have is a major factor in determining what you will pay. If you have commercial insurance, contact your insurer to confirm your coverage and your share of the costs. Your share will depend on your specific health care policy and any out of pocket costs you have already paid during the year. Also, many commercial insurance companies negotiate discounts with individual hospitals that are not reflected in billed charges.

      After your insurance company has reviewed your hospital bill and paid its portion, the hospital will bill you for your part of the bill. Most insurance plans require patients to pay part of their hospital bill. If you have questions about your insurance, please contact your insurance company.

      Consumer Reports maintains an up-to-date list of insurers in South Carolina with links to their websites.

  • What if I don't have insurance?
    • If you are uninsured and need hospital services, it is important that you contact the hospital billing office. They can help determine if you qualify for government-sponsored assistance. Depending on your income, you may also qualify under the hospital's financial assistance policy for discounts and even free care. Payment plans may also be available to help pay for your care.

  • What are Medicare and Medicaid?
    • Medicare is a federal health insurance program for people age 65 or older or under 65 with certain disabilities or conditions.

      Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that helps with medical costs for people with low incomes.

      If you have Medicare or Medicaid, the government sets the payment rates for hospitals and other providers, and those rates generally do not cover the full cost of the care provided. As with commercial insurance, there may be some out-of-pocket costs.

      If you have government sponsored care, you can get more information on the Medicare website or SC Medicaid website.

  • How do I know if my providers are "in-network" or "out-of-network"?
    • If you don't know, check with your insurer. Out-of-network hospitals and other providers have not been able to negotiate a discounted price with your insurer, thus making you potentially responsible for higher personal payments. In fact, some insurers require enrollees to seek care exclusively from a specific list of hospitals and physicians under contract with the insurer for the service to be covered. Consumers who choose a provider that is "out-of-network" may even be responsible for the entire charge. Even if your hospital is in-network, you may receive care from an out-of-network physician. If possible, always find out if all physicians who will treat you are within your health plan's network. This includes but is not limited to anesthesiologists, pathologists, radiologists or consulting doctors. If they are not within network, ask if they will accept in-network payment for services provided to you. If you're concerned that your doctor may be out-of-network, contact your insurance company.

  • Why do hospital charges vary so much?
    • Each patient is unique, requiring treatment that meets his or her individual needs. A patient with complications, such as diabetes and heart disease, may require more intense services, staff time, and a longer stay in the hospital than a patient without complications. Another factor is the individual physician providing each patient’s care. A physician’s treatment protocols are based on his or her education, training, experience, and specialty. As a result, it is not surprising that one physician’s treatment of a patient can vary widely from another physician’s treatment of a patient with similar symptoms.

      Charges may also vary between different hospitals based on a number of factors. For example, if the hospital treats a large number of uninsured and government sponsored (Medicaid and Medicare) patients, its charges are likely to be higher. That's because the hospital is paid less than the actual cost of caring for those patients. To lessen those losses, the hospital has to add the unpaid costs back into its overall charge structure, which results in insured patients subsidizing the care of other uninsured and government-sponsored patients.

      Using PricePoint, you can determine the mix of payers representing each hospital’s patient population, as well as the percentage of billed charges paid by each payer type.

      Other factors that impact charges include the debt assumed to update facilities and purchase more advanced equipment, the number of specially trained professionals on staff, and whether the hospital is located in an area suffering from a health care workforce shortage.

      The mix of services that a hospital provides is directly related to overall costs and therefore charges. Special services, such as trauma, specialized heart care, and intensive care, add significantly to a hospital’s financial requirements and may attract more severely ill patients, requiring more intensive, more costly care.

      Also, a number of hospitals have affiliations with medical schools to provide clinical training sites for medical students and new physicians who have completed medical school. Costs associated with operating graduate medical education programs are only partially supported by government funding, leaving the hospitals to cover the remaining costs.

  • Who will bill my insurer for my hospital stay?
    • After you receive care, the hospital will bill your insurer for your care. Your insurer will send you an Explanation of Benefits (EOB) that prominently states “This is not a bill.” Bills for any amounts you owe will be sent separately by the hospital and other providers who cared for you while you were in the hospital. EOBs provide a summary of the charges submitted to the insurer for payment, the amount that the insurer paid on your behalf and any amounts that you are responsible to pay under your policy. If the insurer has negotiated discounts with the provider, the discount will be the difference between what the hospital or other provider charged and what the insurer paid plus the amount you owe the provider.

  • How can I take charge of my health?
    • The best way to avoid health care costs and expensive hospital services is to take charge of your own health. Lifestyle choices are responsible for nearly 90% of health outcomes. Our personal health is affected by the food we eat, how often we exercise, if we choose to smoke or abuse substances, and how much we sleep.

      There is no shortage of credible resources and programs designed to help consumers improve and maintain the best health possible. Hospitals are excellent resources, offering a wide range of wellness programs and information. In addition to your local hospital, check out government sponsored sites such the National Institutes of Health for information on how to take care of your health.

  • Where can I learn more about the quality of hospital care in South Carolina?
    • The South Carolina Hospital Association embraces transparency of hospital quality and price. We believe that making useful information available to the public will create better informed patients with more confidence in the health care system and better prepared to make the right decisions regarding their health care.

      My SC Hospital, another SCHA-sponsored site, offers consumers reliable information about the quality and safety of care provided by South Carolina hospitals. Consumers can also find quality and patient safety data on Medicare's Hospital Compare website and more information about South Carolina hospitals' efforts to improve quality and safety on the SCHA website.