Gawker examines variations in surgical prices by city

Prices for common medical procedures at hospitals vary widely by city, according to a new examination by the online publication Gawker.

The editors at the publication said they posted the prices as a quasi-public service to its readers.

"It is hard for the average person in need of healthcare to know how much that healthcare will cost. It is hard to comparison shop for medical procedures. The system is opaque," Gawker said. For the non-expert--that is, for most of us--healthcare prices are little more than a nasty and unhelpful surprise."

Gawker worked with the healthcare pricing firm HealthSparq to assemble the chart. It includes prices for procedures such as appendectomies, tonsillectomies and rotator cuff repairs. Altogether, prices for 19 medical procedures in the six large metropolitan areas in the United States were listed. The prices for each region were based on about 1,000 data points apiece, Gawker reported.

For appendectomies, there is about a 50 percent price variation among the major markets, with the operation in the District of Columbia the least expensive at $13,660, compared to San Francisco, the most expensive at $19,566.

But by contrast, a bunionectomy performed at a surgical center was least expensive in San Francisco, at a cost of $8,224. New York was the most expensive place to undergo the procedure at more than $22,000--a nearly three-fold cost variation. In an office, the same procedure in the District of Columbia cost $5,228, but $16,406 in New York City.

Such cost variations are commonplace in healthcare delivery. Business Insider reported recently that that there can be a more than 300 percent cost variation on a surgery depending on where it is performed. Such fluctuations are not even confined to surgical procedures. UCLA researchers recently discovered that costs for treating an enlarged prostate varied by as much as 400 percent, even though the outcomes for the patients were about the same.

"Perhaps our healthcare system could use some standardization," Gawker concluded.

To learn more:
- read the Gawker article 
- check out the Business Insider article