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California calls for more disclosure of medical costs [video chat]

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California officials are looking to build on a federal effort to disclose more healthcare pricing information to consumers.

Medicare officials released new data this week that showed wildly different hospital charges across the nation for 100 of the most common inpatient surgeries and procedures.

Federal regulators said they don't see any justification for why prices for the same treatment differ as much as 40 times among nearby hospitals, and that medical centers charging the highest amounts warrant greater scrutiny.

Video chat: Join us at 2 p.m.

Covered California, a state agency charged with implementing the federal healthcare law, plans to require health insurers selling policies in a state-run exchange next year to give consumers detailed information on their expected medical costs before they undergo a test or procedure.

State officials said they also plan to analyze claims data from those insurers to gauge whether health plans are paying reasonable rates and rewarding high-quality providers.

"Medicare is taking a great step forward by making this data available," said Peter Lee, executive director of Covered California. "We're taking the next step and making this more relevant to consumers so they have quality and cost information before they go to the hospital."

Medicare and private insurers typically pay a fraction of the billed charges released by Medicare officials Wednesday, but experts say the actual amounts paid mirror this wide range. What's more, researchers have no found that higher prices don't necessarily indicate better care.

In the Los Angeles area, Medicare data show, the average charges for joint replacement surgery in 2011 varied by a range of 7 to 1, and for treatment of pneumonia the average bills differed by 4 to 1.

Join us for a live video chat at 2 p.m. with reporter Chad Terhune if you have questions or comments. Click here to read his article on hospital pricing.

Another guest will be Andrea Caballero, program director at the Catalyst for Payment Reform, a San Francisco nonprofit backed by large employers pushing for changes in how medical care is paid for.

The chat will be hosted by Times consumer columnist David Lazarus.

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