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New York State Hospital Data Exposes Big Markups, Odd Bargains

Tue, 12/10/2013 - 9:59am
Nina Bernstein

Just how expensive is your hospital? In New York, the answer may lie in a trove of hospital cost data newly posted online by the State Health Department.

As part of an effort to make healthcare pricing more transparent, the state is naming hospitals and listing their median charges and costs for 1,400 conditions and procedures from 2009 to 2011. In 2011, prices ranged from the $8 bill at Benedictine Hospital in Kingston, N.Y., for treating a case of gastritis (cost: $2), to a $2.8 million charge for a blood disorder case at University Hospital of Brooklyn that cost it $918,462.

Hospital trade groups, who opposed the release of the database, say the figures will only confuse consumers, who rarely pay the sticker price for hospital care, especially if they have insurance. The hospitals also argue that cost figures, though based on reports to the government by the hospitals themselves, cannot be reliably compared because the state did not edit them for deaths, transfers and aberrations.

But even a quick search through the database for common procedures with the same diagnosis code and level of severity turns up a wild mix of startling bargains and enormous markups. For knee joint replacement surgery with moderate severity, for example, the Costco of medical care seems to be A. O. Fox Hospital in Oneonta, where the median charge for 22 cases was $1,376, and the median cost to the hospital was $1,057.

The next lowest price — $12, 661 — was charged by Kings County Hospital Center in Brooklyn, where 21 cases coded the same way cost the hospital only a little less — $12,476. In contrast, the median cost of the same operation was reported as only $11,180 at Vassar Brothers Medical Center in Poughkeepsie, but it charged four times more: a median of $51,897 for its 12 cases in 2011.

While insurance companies negotiate fees with hospitals that are lower than the billed charges, uninsured patients are often stuck with the full price and can be pursued by bill collectors.

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