Why hospital bills are no longer a secret

You can finally see how much U.S. hospitals charge.
Written by Tyler Falk, Contributor on

If you've ever been unfortunate enough to need hospital services in the United States it's unlikely you've ever seen the full bill for your treatments. The cost of hospital services has long been mysterious and confusing. (Planet Money has a great backgrounder on the topic.)

But now the hospital costs in the U.S. are getting a little more transparent.

That's because the federal government is releasing data on the prices that 3,000 hospitals around the country charge for the 100 most common outpatient procedures, the prices you would pay without some form of insurance.

Looking at the data, Washington Post found that there is a major, unexplainable discrepancy in the cost of hospital services. In one example, comparing two hospitals located blocks away from each other in New York City, the Post found that price variation exceeded 300 percent for the same procedure. Why?

Experts attribute the disparities to a health system that can set prices with impunity because consumers rarely see them — and rarely shop for discounts. Although the government has collected this information for years, it was housed in a bulky database that researchers had to pay to access.

Before, hospitals considered keeping these prices secret from other hospitals as a competitive advantage. That's no longer the case.

Go here to access the government data.

And here to access an infographic on hospital costs by state.

One hospital charges $8,000 — another, $38,000 [Washington Post]

Photo: Flickr/taberandrew

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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