SAN FRANCISCO—According to a new analysis from University of California, San Francisco, patients are all too often left in the dark about how and what hospitals charge for their medical care—even in the face of a mounting push nationally for consumers to have a voice in how their health care dollars are spent.
The study looked at nearly 20,000 cases of routine appendicitis at 289 hospitals and medical centers throughout California. The patients—all adults—were admitted for three or fewer days.
The researchers uncovered an enormous discrepancy in what different hospitals charge, ranging from a low of $1,529 to a high of nearly $183,000. The median hospital charge was $33,611. The startling cost variation reveals a “broken system,’’ the authors said.
The article is published online this week in Archives of Internal Medicine.
“Consumers should have a reasonable idea of how much their medical care will cost, but both they and their healthcare providers are often unaware of the costs,’’ said lead author Renee Y. Hsia, MD, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at UCSF. She is also an attending physician in the emergency department at San Francisco General Hospital & Trauma Center.
“We talk about ‘consumer-driven health care’ and how patients should ‘shop’ for care,’’ Hsia said. “But right now, our system isn’t set up at all for allowing patients to act as consumers. It is nearly impossible–even for me, as someone who studies this—to predict what someone’s hospital bill will be. Our system doesn’t have a good way of regulating charges.’’