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Posted: 6:00 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013

Hospital costs still not being clearly disclosed to cash payers

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Cost transparency at hospitals still leaves something to be desired even in an age when "consumer-driven health care" is the buzzword of the future.

The Associated Press reports that researchers at two universities were charged with calling hospitals in every state, more than 120 hospitals in total, to find out the cost for routine hip replacement surgery.

Almost 20 of the hospitals would not give a quote. Many others had to be called five times before they would finally give a quote. And then there was the price variation. It ranged from $11,000 to $126,000 for the same procedure!

In each case, the hypothetical patient was said to be 62 year old uninsured grandmother who was otherwise healthy and could afford to pay out of pocket.

In medicine, in capitalism, when you don't know what the cost of something will be, it's so difficult to shop. If we are to be expected to foot larger co-pays and larger deductibles, then we need to create empowered consumers. And you do that by making this info easily available.

Years ago, there was a hospital accused of padding its bills. As part of their settlement, they were made to post price lists for their most common procedures. So this kind of disclosure is doable.

The info should be there, especially when unreimbursed care is such a huge expense for hospitals.

One promising thing to note: Medical cost inflation is growing at a slower rate than all estimates based on past numbers originally suggested. It's still rising greater than the rate of inflation, but there's been a moderation of it.

I think that's because of larger out of pocket for consumers, which makes people more careful before they go for the next test or procedure.

But ultimately, if we want to control costs, we've got to have access to cost info. Period.

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