Hip-Replacement Cost Hard to Pin Down

February 13, 2013

What's the price tag for a hip replacement? That's not so easy to figure out, according to a report published recently in JAMA Internal Medicine, says Politico.

The findings are important, given the demands for greater transparency heard from so many health care stakeholders -- including state and federal lawmakers, insurance companies, consumer advocates and health trade groups. It may also challenge the idea that empowered patients with "skin in the game" can help control health care costs by being smart health care comparison shoppers.

In the study, researchers requested the lowest "bundled price" for a total hip replacement from two hospitals -- picked randomly -- in every state and Washington, D.C., plus from 20 top-ranked orthopedic hospitals nationwide.

  • The researchers contacted the hospitals up to five times each, telling the hospitals they were asking on behalf of their otherwise healthy 62-year-old grandmother, who didn't have insurance but was prepared to pay out of pocket for the hip replacement.
  • They were trying to find out the total cost -- hospital bills plus physician fees.
  • They discovered that a simple dollar amount wasn't so easy to find out with one -- or even five -- phone calls.
  • The researchers found that just under half -- 45 percent -- of top-ranked hospitals were able to provide a bundled price -- physician and hospital.
  • Just 10 percent of the other hospitals could produce that information.

When the researchers did get cost information, they were presented with a wide range of prices for the procedure: from about $10,000 to more than $100,000.

The team didn't dismiss out of hand the idea that comparison shopping for nonemergency care might be a tool in controlling spending. They just said it was way harder than, say, checking consumer goods on Amazon.com or car prices on Edmonds.com.

Sources: Kathryn Smith, "Report: Hip-Replacement Cost Hard to Pin Down," Politico, February 12, 2013. Jaime A. Rosenthal, Xin Lu and Peter Cram, "Availability of Consumer Prices From US Hospitals for a Common Surgical Procedure," JAMA Internal Medicine, February 11, 2013.

 

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