California News

Prices vary widely at California hospitals: CALPIRG report

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Startling news about the cost of surgery: How much you pay could depend on where you're going for care. That's according to a new report that says costs vary greatly for the very same procedure.

A planned cesarean-section procedure will cost more at Garfield Medical Center in Monterey Park than at any other facility in Los Angeles County according to a new California Public Interest Research Group (CALPIRG) report that found prices are very different from one facility to another for the exact same surgery.

Most patients have no way of knowing what a medical procedure will cost before they go to a hospital, according to this new report.

A planned cesarean-section surgery at Garfield Medical Center would cost more than $43,000. At Beverly Hospital, only a few miles away in Montebello, it costs $8,500.

"Even if you are among those who have good health insurance, you pay for higher prices through your higher insurance premiums," said Emily Rusch, CALPIRG state director.

A new report by CALPIRG found the highest prices for medical care in the state are in the Bay Area. Some of the lowest are in the Fresno area and Orange County.

Researchers say hospitals that are more prestigious or with bigger market power often charge more.

"In the Bay Area, which is generally the most expensive region in the state, those hospitals tend to be better organized and have more market power and leverage with the insurance companies," said Rusch.

In Los Angeles County a knee-replacement surgery would cost $238,071 at Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood, compared with $36,596 at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center in Torrance.

In Orange County, UC Irvine Medical Center charged the highest for a cesarean-section surgery, at $51,379, while Hoag Memorial was the lowest, at $12,239. A knee-replacement surgery at UCI costs $124,793; at Hoag Memorial, $53,373.

The Hospital Association of Southern California (HASC) says these could be considered "sticker prices." Every hospital is required to have what is called a charge master schedule, which lists prices for every procedure.

HASC said: "Today no patient pays that. Medicare actually tells hospitals what they will pay for a procedure. Private insurers negotiate prices with hospitals. If you're uninsured under state law hospitals must provide free or discounted rates."

The people who put together the report say they couldn't find out what patients actually pay.

"Hospitals should be required to disclose not just their sticker price, but the actual price that they charge insurance companies and consumers, including their discounts, because consumers should be able to shop around and figure out where they can actually get the most affordable surgery if they need it," said Rusch.

CALPIRG says if they can figure out why prices are so different from one facility to another, then possibly they can use that to figure out how to lower health costs in the future.

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health care, health insurance, california news, carlos granda
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