Hospital pricing couldn’t be more confusing, could it?

Posted Friday, May. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Medical Centers

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When the Obama administration released a report Wednesday on prices charged by more than 3,000 hospitals for the 100 most common medical procedures, the results could have been summed up in one word: chaos.

For example, Medical Center of Arlington was shown with an average cost of $123,663 for a pacemaker. The average at Baylor All Saints Medical Center in Fort Worth was $46,638.

Plaza Medical Center of Fort Worth billed pneumonia patients an average of $38,514. At Baylor All Saints, the average was $14,106.

And those aren’t extreme examples, according to the report’s figures for 2011 hospital charges. Wide variations at hospitals in cities across the nation were the norm.

The good thing about the report, says Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, is that consumers can compare prices at different hospitals, which puts pressure on the expensive hospitals to reduce costs.

But part of the problem is the complexity of hospital bills, as anyone who has received one knows. Even hospitals admit that.

In a statement quoted by Tony Pugh of the Star-Telegram’s Washington Bureau, the president and CEO of the American Hospital Association, Rich Umbdenstock, said price lists urgently need updating with government help.

“The complex and bewildering interplay among ‘charges,’ ‘rates,’ ‘bills,’ and ‘payments’ across dozens of payers, public and private, does not serve any stakeholder well, including hospitals,” Umbdenstock’s statement said.

Jon Blum, director of the federal Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, said differences in patient health status would cause some variations in costs, but the figures revealed in the report “don’t seem to make sense to us from a consumer standpoint.”

Here’s something that is clear: Pointing out a problem is not the same as fixing it. The Obama team should get busy on the latter, especially since the hospitals seem to be saying they want clarity also.

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