Cost of angioplasties vary widely across country

Providers' pay for specific medical procedures varies widely across the United States--and now a new study about angioplasties reconfirms the differentials.

Differences in what Medicare pays hospitals to perform the procedure vary as much as 532 percent, even within the same market, such as the Los Angeles-Long Beach area of Southern California, according to a study performed by the Health of America Report, using data gathered by Blues plans across the United States.

It focused on angioplasties performed on patients who had not suffered a heart attack (in order to provide consumer-friendly data) at inpatient and outpatient facilities in 86 of the 100 largest Metropolitan Statistical Areas in the United States.

Sacramento, California was the most expensive place in the country to undergo an angioplasty, with a median cost of  $61,231. That's more than four times the cost in Birmingham, Alabama, which has a median of $15,494. 

Even so, the cost variations for angioplasties are not as stark as they are for delivering a child. A recent study found a more than 10-fold cost difference among some hospitals. For other common surgical procedures, the cost differential can be as much as 200 percent. Experts say a relative lack of price transparency is among the reasons for the dramatic cost differentials.

About 1 million angioplasties are performed each year in the U.S., according to the report, costing about $10 billion in total. As many as one in eight of the procedures are considered medically unnecessary and inappropriate.

"Data reveal that in markets with a high degree of cost variation, a significant volume of episodes occur at higher cost facilities," the study said, even though researchers concluded that many lower-cost facilities have highly positive outcomes. 

To learn more:
- here's the study (.pdf)