Sutton also emphasized that the team got key records from an accessible statewide database through Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, which that made it possible to draw the conclusions the Times did. Other states might not have similar public databases. Still, other reporters within Florida might want to use the database to monitor trauma fees at their local hospitals in light of the Times’ findings.

Is there a big takeaway for all reporters, I asked Sutton. She thought for a minute, then said yes. Contrary to common claims made about hospital prices—that the number on the bill is next to meaningless when evaluating costs, because almost no one pays it—“charges do matter,” she said. The sticker price, or charge, is the number from which hospitals begin their negotiations with insurers to arrive at a final cost for services.

Reporters at the Times got ahold of some confidential documents that showed Florida Blue’s trauma payments to HCA hospitals; the final settlement reflected a percentage of the bill, so the higher the hospital’s charges, the more it got paid. “Our reporters kept digging and digging and found charges to have ripple effects,” Sutton said. “It’s important to find out what those effects are.”

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Trudy Lieberman is a fellow at the Center for Advancing Health and a longtime contributing editor to the Columbia Journalism Review. She is the lead writer for The Second Opinion, CJR’s healthcare desk, which is part of our United States Project on the coverage of politics and policy. Follow her on Twitter @Trudy_Lieberman.