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State Offers Web Tool to Compare Surgery Prices by Hospital

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, May 21, 2009

Want to compare the cost of getting a laporoscopic hysterectomy in Sacramento?  Or a heart valve replacement in Riverside? How about correcting urinary incontinence in Santa Barbara?

California's Web tool will give you the numbers with a few clicks. For example, the charges for a lap hysterectomy range from $38,089 at Mercy General, $59,719 at Sutter Memorial and $78,418 at the University of California at Davis Medical Center.

The heart valve operation will cost $340,700 at Desert Regional Medical Center in Palm Springs, $146,793 at Eisenhower Memorial in Rancho Mirage and $146.793 at Riverside Community Hospital. And for urinary incontinence, Santa Barbara's Lompoc Valley Medical Center charges $10,070, Marian Medical Center bills it at $23,616 and at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, it will cost $25,642.

The new Web site operated by the state of California's Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development has costs based on discharge data submitted by each hospital just for 2007 so far. But, in a few weeks, it will have more up-to-date information for 2008.

"This is just the beginning," says OSHPD spokesman David Byrnes.

The Web site also includes each hospital's average length of stay for each procedure.

Byrnes cautions that for those covered by health insurance policies, this is not what patients pay, but merely reflects what each hospital bills. Also, he points out, "if you're underinsured or uninsured, you can negotiate these charges."

"Anytime you can provide consumers more information on the healthcare they are receiving it is a bonus," Byrnes said. "While these prices are not what the typical health plan, Medicare or Medi-Cal actually pays, they do provide the average 'sticker price' for these common procedures. The 'sticker price' is like the MSRP in the car dealership world. No one really ever pays it, but it helps you shop around and get familiar with different price points."

Asked why the state doesn’t supply the actual price that consumers, health plans, and government agencies pay for such procedures, Byrnes says, "If that data was available we'd post that information too."

OSHPD director David Carlisle, MD, said offering value of cost and price information is important as consumers are given more healthcare decisions. "Using our patient discharge datasets, this tool allows consumers to access data about common inpatient procedure prices in an easy to use online setting," says Carlisle.

For now, the Web site offers county-by-county, and city-by-city comparisons for 28 procedures. They include surgeries involving the digestive system, female system, heart and circulation, male system, obstetrics, skeletal, and urinary tract.

One can compare gastric bypass procedures and gall bladder operations performed through laparoscopy versus open techniques, vaginal deliveries versus C-sections, and replacement of hip or a knee or the removal of a disc.

California is among the first states in the nation to use discharge data that hospitals are required to provide to help consumers make better choices. Other states that have similar Web-based tools include Wisconsin, Texas, Iowa, Utah, and Virginia.


Cheryl Clark is senior quality editor and California correspondent for HealthLeaders Media. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.
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