California Healthline Daily Edition

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Study: Reported Charges Vary Between California Hospitals

Reported charges for appendicitis cases vary dramatically between California's acute care hospitals, according to a study involving UC-San Francisco researchers, the Ventura County Star reports.

For the study, researchers examined charges reported by hospitals for 19,368 cases of appendicitis in 2009.

Key Findings

According to the study, the lowest hospital charge for one appendicitis case was $1,529, while the highest charge was $182,955. The median charge for a case of appendicitis was $33,611, according to researchers.

The study also found that: Public hospitals charged about 36.6% less to treat appendicitis than not-for-profit hospitals; and Not-for-profit hospitals charged about 16.3% less than for-profit hospitals.

Reaction to Study

Hospital officials said the findings are of little value because the charges have little bearing on what insured or uninsured patients actually pay.

Dave Glyer -- CFO for Community Memorial Health System -- said that the study "assumed that hospital charges matter when they don't," making it "completely off base." He said that insured patients pay rates negotiated by health insurers and that certain uninsured patients are aided by assistance programs.

Maribeth Shannon -- director of the California HealthCare Foundation, which publishes California Healthline -- agreed that there is not much of a connection between reported charges and actual payments. However, she said that actual payments also vary significantly between hospitals and sometimes differ within the same facility.

Renee Hsia -- an emergency department physician -- said the reported charges are important because they represent an illogical pricing system that does not allow patients to know how much procedures really cost.

Although some say the pricing system will improve under the federal health reform law, Hsia said more regulation is needed, citing Maryland's creation of a commission that sets hospital rates (Kisken, Ventura County Star, 5/7).

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