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Hospital Billing Varies Wildly, Government Data Shows

Wed, 05/08/2013 - 9:31am
Barry Meier, Jo Craven McGinty, and Julie Creswell

A hospital in Livingston, N.J., charged $70,712 on average to implant a pacemaker, while a hospital in nearby Rahway, N.J., charged $101,945.

In Saint Augustine, Fla., one hospital typically billed nearly $40,000 to remove a gallbladder using minimally invasive surgery, while one in Orange Park, Fla., charged $91,000.

In one hospital in Dallas, the average bill for treating simple pneumonia was $14,610, while another there charged over $38,000.

Data being released for the first time by the government on Wednesday shows that hospitals charge Medicare wildly differing amounts — sometimes 10 to 20 times what Medicare typically reimburses — for the same procedure, raising questions about how hospitals determine prices and why they differ so widely.

The data for 3,300 hospitals, released by the federal Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, shows wide variations not only regionally but among hospitals in the same area or city.

Government officials said that some of the variation might reflect the fact that some patients were sicker or required longer hospitalization.

Nonetheless, the data is likely to intensify a long debate over the methods that hospitals use to determine their charges.

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