Secret hospital bills now more transparent

The cost of health care in the U.S. has been mysterious for years, but that's all changing.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor

Last March, Steven Brill's Time Magazine cover story explored the mysterious costs of health care in the United States. While an estimated $2.8 trillion -- 20 percent of U.S. GDP -- will be spent on health care in the U.S., it's not always clear what the costs are for various procedures. Since that story, a push for more transparent medical costs is underway.

First, the federal government released data on the prices of the 100 most common outpatient procedures at about 3,000 hospitals. Analysis of the data found that there were major, unexplainable price discrepancies between hospitals. In some cities, for example, the same procedure was dramatically different even though the hospitals were blocks apart.

Now, an Oklahoma City surgery center is causing a bidding war by posting their prices online. KFOR in Oklahoma City reports:

Matthew Gang, 22, tore his patella tendon, dislocating his knee-cap playing basketball earlier this year.

Gang is from California and he is uninsured.

Surgery in his home-state was going to be about $30,000.

The posted price at Surgery Center of Oklahoma was $5,700, one-fifth the price.

Matthew and his father Tom Gang flew from California to Oklahoma for surgery.

“It was well worth it,” Tom Gang said. “I need a rotator cuff surgery right now. I’m thinking about flying out there and having my surgery because it was such a positive experience for us.”

But the Surgery Center of Oklahoma which has posted their costs for the past four years (see all their prices here) isn't alone. Other Oklahoma health care facilities are now joining them in cost transparency and a Florida hospital recently announced that they would release the costs of what insurances pay them for individual services.

A recent University of Michigan study also found that the number of websites with information on health care costs has risen steadily since 2000. But few -- unlike the Surgery Center of Oklahoma -- have easy access to prices of procedures in which you can plan ahead and shop for the be price.

"There’s growing enthusiasm for improving transparency of prices for health services to help people be well-informed consumers and make better decisions about their care," said Jeffrey Kullgren, lead author of the study. "The problem is that most of the information that’s out there isn’t particularly useful to the patients themselves."

Read more: KFOR

Image: Costs of surgery at Surgery Center of Oklahoma

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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