Prices for Common Procedures Not Readily Available


Clinical question: Are patients able to select health-care providers based on price of service?

Background: With health-care costs rising, patients are encouraged to take a more active role in cost containment. Many initiatives call for greater pricing transparency in the health-care system. This study evaluated price availability for a common surgical procedure.

Study design: Telephone inquiries with standardized interview script.

Setting: Twenty top-ranked orthopedic hospitals and 102 non-top-ranked U.S. hospitals.

Synopsis: Hospitals were contacted by phone with a standardized, scripted request for the price of an elective total hip arthroplasty. The script described the patient as a 62-year-old grandmother without insurance who is able to pay out of pocket and wishes to compare hospital prices. On the first or second attempt, 40% of top-ranked and 32% of non-top-ranked hospitals were able to provide their price; after five attempts, authors were unable to obtain full pricing information (both hospital and physician fee) from 40% of top-ranked and 37% of non-top-ranked hospitals. Neither fee was made available by 15% of top-ranked and 16% of non-top-ranked hospitals. Wide variation in pricing was found across hospitals. The authors commented on the difficulties they encountered, such as the transfer of calls between departments and the uncertainty of representatives on how to assist.

Bottom line: For individual patients, applying basic economic principles as a consumer might be tiresome and often impossible, with no major differences between top-ranked and non-top-ranked hospitals.

Citation: Rosenthal JA, Lu X, Cram P. Availability of consumer prices from US hospitals for a common surgical procedure. JAMA Intern Med. 2013;173(6):427-432.

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