Falling in line with a federal mandate effective Jan. 1, New Jersey hospitals are required to post online the amount they charge for everything from aspirin to major surgery.

Unfortunately, this move — intended to improve transparency in healthcare — will likely benefit only 1 out of every 20 or so patients in the Garden State.

The charges, posted in the form of seemingly never-ending lists that aren't so user friendly, are not relevant to the majority of patients and consumers.

"That's because charges are not the same as the prices that most customers face," said Kerry McKean-Kelly, vice president of communications for the New Jersey Hospital Association. "For the majority of patients, the actual price that they might pay out of pocket will be much, much different."

"Different" equals lower, due to portions paid by health insurance plans and government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

"Only about 5 percent of healthcare consumers in New Jersey would ever face those true charges that people would see on websites," McKean-Kelly said.

Since 2007, NJHA has voluntarily posted hospitals' charges online. But it isn't a comprehensive list, featuring only the most commonly used procedures. The tool currently features 2016 data; with the new mandate, hospitals likely have more updated information on their own sites.

Individuals with health insurance, who have questions about the real cost of medical help, are advised to contact their health insurance company.

"They will be able to provide you with the best type of true price or out-of-pocket cost estimates," McKean-Kelly said.

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Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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