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Survey finds discrepancy in hospital charges

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Updated: 5/08/2013 4:35 pm
A new study finds that the price you pay for medical care can vary greatly depending on the hospital where you're treated.

The charge sheets from more than 3,000 hospitals around the nation reveal a seemingly random variation in prices for 100 of the most common in patient procedures.

For hip and knee replacements the charges range from $5,300 at a hospital in Ada, Oklahoma to $223,000 in Monterey Park, California.

The disparity exists even for hospitals just miles apart.

In the nation's capitol, George Washington University billed patients on a ventilator $115,000,
while Providence Hospital charged just under $53,000.

"The data doesn't show that there's any quality care as the prices go up," notes Robert Zirkelbach of America's Health Insurance Plans.

Zirkelbach represents insurance companies.

Like Medicare, insurers are able to negotiate lower fees...To a degree.

"So much of the public policy debate is focused solely on health insurance premiums and has largely ignored the prices that are being charged for services that drive those premium increases," Zirkelbach points out.

Now the debate shifts to what hospitals are charging, and why.

John Blum runs the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services at the Department of Health and Human Services.

He can't find a logical explanation.

"We don't see any and we haven't heard one that makes sense to us," he says.

The Obama administration released the data hoping to drive down the cost of health care.

"When you make quality cost transparent, that added level makes better results for consumers," says White House Chief Technology Officer Todd Park.

Patient advocates say the data proves one thing: Health care costs are out of control.

-- Danielle Leigh, NBC Eews, reports
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