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Coding to Hide Health Prices From Web Searches Is Barred by Regulators

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An NYU Langone Health building.

NYU Langone Health said it used Web-search blocking code to direct patients first to information it considered more useful than raw pricing data.

Federal regulators now require hospitals and insurers to disclose long-confidential pricing data, including rates that insurers pay for services, following a Wall Street Journal report that hospitals used special coding that concealed such data from Web searches.

The Journal identified search-blocked pages with an algorithm that read the contents of 3,190 disclosure pages with addresses supplied by startup Turquoise Health.

The program sought a tag in the pages' background coding that tells search engines not to index the page.

A U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services spokesperson said the rule changes implemented after the Journal report "helps clarify the intent of this regulation—make the files public and accessible."

The spokesperson added that the hospital regulation requires the data to be "easily accessible and void of barriers," and that digital files "be digitally searchable."

From The Wall Street Journal
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