By Angela Davis

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Department of Health has discovered a big difference in the prices patients pay for the same surgeries.

A new report by the Minnesota Department of Health shows a patient undergoing one of four hospital procedures may pay between two to seven times as much as another patient in the same hospital.

This can mean a price difference of about $7,000 to nearly $70,000.

“For the first time, we can put numbers on it,” said Stefan Gildemeister, a state health economist. “We know this exists nationally as well…and in our neighboring states.”

Researchers examined the prices that Minnesota hospital patients paid from July of 2014 to June of 2015.

They looked at four common procedures: spinal fusion surgery, major bowel surgery, appendectomy, and removal of uterine fibroids.

“We see variation across the state that is substantial,” Gildemeister said. “We see variations between hospitals that is sizeable. And we see variation even within the hospital for the same procedure.”

Here’s an example.

Prices for a bowel procedure at the most expensive hospital ranged from about $14,500 to $68,800, and prices at the most expensive hospital for spinal fusion ranged from about $27,600 to $80,800.

“Different people end up facing a different sticker price, even though their insurance pays for part of that,” Gildemeister said. “We want to ask: Why is that, does that make sense?”

National research shows the price differences are likely driven by market or pricing power that health insurers and hospitals have.

So, it appears that a hospital can charge more because…it can.

“Oh, for sure. This is America, “ Gildemeister said. “These are economic actors. They take advantage of their healthcare market position. This is what we expect from them.”

The report looked at hospitals across the state, in urban and rural areas, but does not identify them.

The goal in studying this and documenting the price differences is to give lawmakers, employers and policy makers evidence to work with so they can look at making changes.

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