Posted by: Chris Maloney | May 3, 2012

How Much Should You Pay? Surgery For 1,500 or 180,000

Hip replacement using cementless implants. 16 ...

Hip replacement using cementless implants. 16 days post-surgery. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When you think about an appendix removal, it’s a fairly straightforward surgery.  Open you up, and take out a bit of intestine.  Sew back up.

How much is reasonable to pay for this surgery?  A bit older healthcare site listed the price at 5 to 18,000 dollars.  The most recent analysis is about 28,000.

So when a study finds the prices vary as much as $1,500 to $180,000, we have to ask why?  For starters, where’s the $1,500 bargain basement surgeon?  Shouldn’t he or she be booked out by tomorrow?  Nope, because we don’t know who gave such a deal.  We also don’t know who gauged the $180,000, except that it was a hospital in Silicon Valley.

Here’s the problem.  If you or I found gas at $1.85 a gallon, we’d tell all our friends.  They’d tell all their friends.  That gas station would have a line around the block.  That, my friends, is the market in action.

But market economics don’t work if no one knows the price of what they’re getting.  When did it become ok for hospitals to hide their fees?  Shouldn’t they be required to post them online like everyone else?  If I want a pizza, I know which one is cheapest.  If I need a spark plug, I can find the cheapest option.  But if I need a hip replacement, I have no idea where to even find the prices.

And it is illegal for a restaurant, a mechanic, or a store to sell certain people the same thing at three times the cost.  But an uninsured person gets slammed with a bill 40% higher than an insured person when they visit a hospital.  They get artificially inflated prices like some tourist trap.

How about a simple law requiring the posting of all hospital fees?  That would give us a starting place for healthcare change.

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