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Costs for the same medical procedures show wide variation between hospitals

The same service can command dramatically different prices depending on where in the country it's being performed.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The price of a common blood test in Toledo, Ohio is only $18, but in Beaumont, Texas, the same procedure cost $443. The median price for C-sections showed an even greater price disparity between regions, costing $4,556 in Knoxville, Tennessee but a whopping $20,721 in San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, California, which is four-and-a-half times pricer.

Those are just a couple of the revelations unearthed in the Health Care Cost Institute's latest study, which used something called the Health Marketplace Index to measure how much a service costs using the sum of the patient's out-of-pocket expenses and what an insurer covers.

As those price discrepancies illustrate, the same medical procedure can command dramatically different prices depending on where in the country the service is being performed.

IMPACT

There were some trends geographically; the East and West coasts, for instance, generally saw higher costs than the middle of the country, although there were some exceptions.

Anchorage, Alaska and San Jose, California both had prices about 82 percent more than the median, for example -- tied for the highest overall price level -- while Baltimore, Maryland's prices were 26 percent below the median, making it the least expensive region in the country for the services in question.

One of those services was established patient office visits. They were $165 in Anchorage, but just $60 in Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach, Florida.

Even within some metro areas there were wide disparities from hospital to hospital. The price of a screening mammogram varied by more than four-fold in Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, Pennsylvania, where the median price is $177; meanwhile, some new patient office visits cost over three times more than other new patient office visits in Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, Minnesota, where the median price was $229.

The median price of a vaginal delivery inthe Boston-Cambridge-Newton area in Massachusetts and New Hampshire was $8,074 but ranged from $4,701 at the 10th percentile to $15,973 at the 90th percentile, a difference of $11,272.

HCCI also looked at the relationship between its cost data and an overall price index, finding that in many metro areas there was a correlation between the cost of medical services and the overall cost of living.

THE TREND

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services implemented a rule, effective January 1, that required hospitals to post their standard charges online. CMS Administrator Seema Verma said it was the first step the agency was considering when it came to addressing price transparency.
 

Twitter: @JELagasse

Email the writer: jeff.lagasse@himssmedia.com

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