How Much is That Procedure?

Jaime Rosenthal, a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, called more than 100 hospitals in every state last summer, seeking prices for a hip replacement for a 62-year-old grandmother who was uninsured but had the means to pay herself.

The quotes she received might surprise even hardened health care economists: only about half of the hospitals, including top-ranked orthopedic centers and community hospitals, could provide any sort of price estimate, despite repeated calls. Those that could gave quotes that varied by a factor of more than 10, from $11,100 to $125,798.

One of the many problems with our health care system is that hospitals often have different ideas of what procedures should cost, and for some procedures, “quality” data doesn’t accompany “price” data, so it isn’t clear, for example, if paying for a “Mercedes” hip transplant is better off in the long-term than cheaper options. One good thing about this study was that top-ranked hospitals in the country often offered some the lowest prices for procedures, which: my mama told me, you better shop around, etc.

Photo: Cindy Funk


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