By Steven Van Roekel and Todd Park
In today’s information age, most of us wouldn’t dream of buying a TV or washing machine without comparison shopping. But when it comes to healthcare decisions — one of the most important and most expensive choices with which we are faced — pricing data are usually not even available.
That’s changing. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently released a new dataset that for the first time shows what hospitals charge for inpatient services associated with the 100 most common kinds of hospital stays. The data have revealed huge variations in hospital charges across the country and even within metro areas. In Birmingham, Alabama, for example, the average hospital charge for hip and knee replacement varies from $23,000 at one hospital to $141,000 at another.
The demand for this kind of information is real. Within 24 hours of the hospital charge information being made public, it was downloaded over 100,000 times.