Medicare charges vary widely at California hospitals, new data show

Medicare officials released new data Wednesday showing the wide disparity in hospital bills for common medical procedures.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Federal officials are shedding new light on how much hospital bills vary across Southern California and the rest of the country.

Medicare released pricing information Wednesday for more than 3,300 U.S. hospitals on the top 100 procedures and treatments in 2011. The federal health program for seniors and private insurers only pays a fraction of these billed charges.

Nonetheless, this information shows the wide variation in prices among hospitals for common medical procedures at a time when policymakers are wrestling with how to hold down rising healthcare costs.


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Officials said they released this data in hopes that increased transparency will help squeeze some excess cost out of the system and enable consumers to become savvier shoppers for healthcare.

One of the most common surgeries is for an artificial joint replacement. Medicare data show that Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles charged, on average, $110,123 for those cases. Keck Hospital of USC billed an average of $123,885 and Prime Healthcare’s Centinela Hospital Medical Center in Inglewood averaged $220,881.

In contrast, Hoag Orthopedic Institute in Irvine billed Medicare $52,066, on average, for joint replacements and Kaiser’s Los Angeles Medical Center charged $35,524.

Hospitals say their charges are often higher than average because they are treating older and sicker patients who sometimes experience more complications and need longer hospital stays. These cost figures also don’t reflect the quality of the patient care and clinical outcomes.

Insurers often cite the increasing cost of hospital care to justify raising premiums for employers and consumers.

Similar price disparities were seen in the treatment of simple pneumonia. L.A. County/USC Medical Center billed $19,852, on average, for that illness and St. John’s Health Center in Santa Monica charged $22,990.

Los Alamitos Medical Center billed Medicare $54,400 for cases of pneumonia, on average.

Another common procedure is a gallbladder removal. Medicare data show that Providence St. Joseph Medical Center in Burbank charged $81,229 on average for laparoscopic gallbladder surgery while Los Robles Hospital and Medical Center in Thousand Oaks came in at $54,015, on average.

Under a state law that took effect in 2006, California hospitals must publish their average charges for the most common procedures on a state website, searchable by consumers.


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