I have a new favorite mystery site. It is called the Maine Health Data Organization. What you do is look things up on the site and then ask yourself, what’s going on here?
For example, if you need an MRI of your knee after doing too much on the ski slopes, how do you decide where to go? You might suspect that the price of a knee MRI would be roughly the same throughout the state, like gas. It might vary a bit, but not enough to make it worth your while to cross the state for a test. But you’d be wrong.
According to the MHDO website the price of a knee MRI varies from $683 to $1929. In other words, a trip across the state would save more than a $1000, which is still modestly more than the tank of gas it would cost to get there.
What makes the difference? Well, the prices of different hospitals are based on…who knows? We have no rational basis for health care costs at all. It has been what the market would bear, which is seemingly endless because those paying the costs are not typically those receiving the care.
The cheapest knee MRI is at Goodall Hospital, but even a two hour trip up from spendy Portland to Bangor would save $900.
So what determines the price of a hospital, and how do we bring these prices more in line with each other? In the meantime, it’s definitely time to go hospital bargain shopping.
Be sure to put in multiple years, because some hospitals only list for 2010. Also put in multiple insurance plans to get a sense of what they offer to the other insured people. And then call up hospital billing to find out your home price.
If you are uninsured, of course, you pay around $500 more than the insured people. Which raises the question, how is it possible that an uninsured person who pays with a check costs the hospitals more than an insured person who requires them to file six months worth of paperwork to get paid?
As a practitioner, I have had insurance companies call me up to “negotiate” the price. Basically they offer me 40% of my rates. I wonder if a prospective patient could do the same to hospital billing. Maybe you can get the $500 knocked off for “prompt payment” or something. It is certainly worth a try.
Anyway, it is certainly a mystery.