CHICAGO -- Want to know how much a hip replacement will cost? Many hospitals won't be able to tell you, at least not right away -- if at all. And if you shop around and find centers that can quote a price, the amounts could vary astronomically, a study found.Routine hip replacement surgery on a healthy patient without insurance may cost as little as $11,000 -- or up to nearly $126,000.That's what researchers found after calling hospitals in every state, 122 in all, asking what a healthy 62-year-old woman would have to pay to get an artificial hip. Hospitals were told that the made-up patient was the caller's grandmother, had no insurance but could afford to pay out of pocket -- that's why knowing the cost information ahead of time was so important.About 15 percent of hospitals did not provide any price estimate, even after a researcher called back as many as five times.The researchers obtained a complete price estimate including physician fees from close to half the hospitals. But in most cases, that took contacting the hospital and doctor separately."Our calls to hospitals were often greeted by uncertainty and confusion," the researchers wrote. "We were frequently transferred between departments, asked to leave messages that were rarely returned, and told that prices could not be estimated without an office visit."Many hospitals "are just completely unprepared" for cost questions, said Jaime Rosenthal, a Washington University student who co-authored the report.Most hospitals aren't intentionally hiding costs; they're just not used to patients asking. That's particularly true for patients with health insurance who "don't bother to ask because they know insurance will cover it," said a co-author, Dr. Peter Cram, a researcher at the University of Iowa's medical school.The study was published online Monday in JAMA Internal Medicine. A California study published last year about surgery to remove an appendix found similar cost disparities.American Hospital Association spokeswoman Marie Watteau said hospitals "have a uniform set of charges. Sharing meaningful information, however, is challenging because hospital care is unique and based on each individual patient's needs."U.S. insurance companies typically negotiate to pay less than the billing price. Insured patients' health plans determine what they pay, whereas uninsured patients may pay the full amount.The study authors noted that Medicare and other large insurers frequently pay $10,000 to $25,000 for hip replacement surgery.Sean Toohey, a grains broker at the Chicago Board of Trade, had hip replacement surgery last summer at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill. An old sports injury had worn out his left hip, causing "horrendous" pain on the job, where he's on his feet all day filling orders.Toohey, 54, said his health insurance covered most of the costs, and it didn't occur to him to ask about price beforehand. He was back at work two weeks later and is pain-free. That's what matters most to him."I never really looked or paid attention" to the cost, he said.He paid about $7,900 but wasn't sure what the total bill amounted to.