Survey Finds Price Differences Among Hospitals in Santa Clara County
Prices for 10 common medical procedures vary substantially among six Santa Clara County hospitals, according to a survey by the San Jose Mercury News. Insured patients pay part of a discounted rate negotiated by their health plan, but uninsured patients in some cases are charged the hospital's "list price" for procedures, according to the Mercury News.
The survey found that:
- Charges for a comprehensive metabolic panel -- a blood test -- ranged from $149 to about $520 at the six hospitals; Medicare paid $14.77;
- Charges for a mammogram ranged from $95 to $405; Medicare paid $69.66; and
- Charges for an overnight stay in the medical-surgical unit ranged from $1,909 to $3,900.
Jan Emerson, a spokesperson for the California Hospital Association, said, "There's zero connection between costs, charges and reimbursements." Emerson added, "In many cases, to get $5 more from the health plans you have to raise your charges $50 or more."
According to the Mercury News, a "little-known" state law that took effect in July 2004 allows patients access to hospital pricing lists, which can "shed light on the Byzantine world of hospital prices."
In addition, a bill sponsored by Assembly member Wilma Chan (D-Oakland) would require hospitals to offer discounted prices to patients earning less than 400% of the federal poverty level.
Assembly member Dario Frommer (D-Glendale) has proposed requiring hospitals to provide price information based on entire procedures, such as a heart bypass surgery, rather than charges for individual items and treatments (Feder Ostrov, San Jose Mercury News, 5/22).