Hospital bills nation-wide revealed, vast disparities shown

WASHINGTON (AP/Washington Post) - The government is shedding light on the mystery of just how high a hospital bill might go - and whether it's cheaper to get that care across town.

The Department of Health and Human Services on Wednesday listed thousands of hospitals' charges for 100 common Medicare services.

There are vast disparities. Joint replacement prices range from about $5,000 at an Ada, Okla., hospital to about $220,000 in Monterey Park, Calif. It's not just geography - hospitals within the same cities also vary widely.

In D.C., George Washington University’s average bill for a patient on a ventilator was $115,000, while Providence Hospital’s average charge for the same service was just under $53,000, the Washington Post reported. For a lower joint replacement, George Washington University charged almost $69,000 compared with Sibley Memorial Hospital’s average of just under $30,000.

Virginia’s highest average rate for a lower limb replacement was at CJW Medical Center in Richmond, more than $117,000, compared with Winchester Medical Center charging $25,600 per procedure.

Due to its unique hospital rate charge system, discrepancies in Maryland were smaller, and its average rate was lower than that of any other state in the most common procedures reviewed by The Washington Post. The highest average charge for a lower joint replacement was $36,000 by University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, much lower than the highest rates in other states.{ }

Medicare and insurance companies negotiate lower rates than these "list prices." These prices can affect the co-pays that hit insured patients.

Releasing the information may put pressure on hospitals to lower charges that are out of line.