Report: Surgery Prices Vary Wildly at California Hospitals

Prices charges for different surgeries in California hospitals vary from region to region, with the highest-priced facilities charging 2.7 times more than hospitals in the lowest-priced regions, according to a report from the CALPIRG Education Fund (pdf), a consumer advocacy group.

California is a unique state in that all hospitals are required to submit a copy of their chargemasters, which the state then posts online for all consumers and patients to see.

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CALPIRG looked at price data of common, elective and inpatient surgeries performed at hospitals throughout the state: Cesarean birth, knee replacement, spinal fusion, hip replacement, hysterectomy and several other procedures. Here are some of the report's major findings.

•    Hospitals in Alameda County, one of the highest-priced regions in California, charged 60 percent above the statewide median for common surgeries. Fresno-area hospitals were among the lowest-priced facilities, charging 40 percent below the statewide median. For example, a knee replacement in a Fresno-area hospital in 2010 cost $46,800 on average compared with $127,500 in an Alameda-region hospital.

•    Hospitals within the same regions charged more for specific surgeries than others. A Cesarean section birth at Saddleback Memorial Medical Center in Laguna Hills, Calif., cost roughly $31,000 in 2010. At Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian in Newport Beach, Calif., a Cesarean section cost less than half of that. Both are located in Orange County.

•    Regional patterns of high spending do not follow regional income and health patterns.

•    Hospitals with greater market power were able to charge more.

The group made recommendations to help control healthcare cost variation in California, saying the state needs better information about the reasons for charge variation and the state should build upon the best practices of regions with lower charges to balance the discrepancies.

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