How Much Does an IV Bag of Saltwater Cost?


It is no secret that medical care in the United States is overpriced. But as the tale of the humble IV bag shows all too clearly, it is secrecy that helps keep prices high: hidden in the underbrush of transactions among multiple buyers and sellers, and in the hieroglyphics of hospital bills.

At every step from manufacturer to patient, there are confidential deals among the major players, including drug companies, purchasing organizations and distributors, and insurers. These deals so obscure prices and profits that even participants cannot say what the simplest component of care actually costs, let alone what it should cost. And that leaves taxpayers and patients alike with an inflated bottom line and little or no way to challenge it.

In May 2012, a food poisoning outbreak struck upstate New York, causing more than 100 people to seek hospital treatment. Times reporter Nina Bernstein attempted to figure out what individual patients were charged for an IV bag with sterile saltwater to replenish their lost fluids. You will be surprised to learn (or not surprised at all) that this proved to be much more difficult than expected because of our opaque system of pricing where the charges appear to be mysterious. One woman who paid $100 for her visit sums it up for a lot of patients: “Honestly, I don’t understand the system at all.”

Photo: The National Guard

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4 Comments / Post A Comment

minijen (#656)

This just confirmed a suspicion I’ve had for some time regarding an area hospital system. It’s the only ER I’ve been to where they slap in an IV and run a bag of saline before they do any testing or you see a doctor. I was told the reason was “most people don’t drink enough water”. As someone one that only drinks water, and in plentiful amounts, I protested. It was ignored, and I was given the IV anyways. All three times I was there. No discussion, no good reasoning, just padding the bill.

@minijen That is evil!

If they wanted you to drink more water, they could also HAND YOU A CUP OF WATER. Which they would probably charge $50 for.

@minijen Also, I don’t know the first thing about medicine, but it seems like giving somebody an IV of anything before at least figuring out the basics of what’s going on would be…unwise? Potentially dangerous? There have to be situations when extra fluids are not good.

Stina (#686)

For some perspective, my cat had to make an emergency trip to the vet yesterday (he has urinary problems but he’ll be ok) and I was charged $15.78 for fluid therapy for him.

But hospitals for humans are more expensive to staff, insure, supply with technology, and run so charging more for all things should be expected.Not that there should be this huge variation between hospitals though.

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