CA hospitals' blood test prices all over the map

California hospitals charge such a wide array of prices for simple blood tests that it appears there is no rational system in place for pricing such services, according to a study published in BMJ Open.

One hospital that charged $10 for a blood test was bested by another facility that charged $10,000 for the same assay. Prices ranged for another test, a basic metabolic panel, from $35 to $7,303, with the average charge being $371.

It is a well-known that there is a wide disparity in what hospitals charge for care, although the differences here tend to be more stark than the gaps in what is charged for an episode of care, such as an orthopedic or cardiac surgery.

""If you ask an automotive maker, they will know how much it costs to make a Honda. If you ask a hospital CEO how much an appendicitis admission costs, they will not be able to tell you. They have never been asked to determine prices that way. People say our healthcare system needs to be more marketplace-driven, but the charging system and payment system are irrational," said Renee Hsia, M.D. an associate professor of emergency medicine at UC San Francisco and the study's main author, told Kaiser Health News. "When people try to understand why prices are the way they are, we have no ability to explain it. That is the take-home message. That is what is so disturbing."

Hospital officials dismissed the study's findings and criticism, telling Kaiser Health News that few people pay full-freight charges and that discounts are widely available.

Price transparency is only slowly taking hold in the hospital setting, despite some studies that indicate that having prices available drives down the cost of diagnostic procedures such as MRIs. Only a few states, such as Colorado, have even made attempts to post hospital pricing.

To learn more:
- here's the study abstract
- read the Kaiser Health News article

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