Healthcare in Massachusetts: $1,550 for a 20-minute eye exam

A routine eye exam of a teen patient at Boston Children's Hospital led to a $1,550 bill--a state of affairs that suggests Massachusetts is still having problems curbing runaway healthcare costs. 

That's according to Boston Globe columnist Thomas Farragher, who took an in-depth look at the bill for a recent article

The father of the patient, Adam Glasgow, M.D., is a local bariatric surgeon who is quite familiar with healthcare finance issues. He said the charge was in part due to his recent switch to a high-deductible health plan, but it remains an issue of major concern for him.

"I'll get 900 bucks and the patient will be in the hospital for three days and I'll be on the hook to care for them for 90 days,'' Glasgow told the Globe. "This is a clear example of what happens when these big hospitals are allowed to exploit their market share at the expense of the rest of us.'' Glasgow said he did not believe charges for such services were sustainable over the long-term.

That a hospital is charging that much for a 20-minute eye exam suggests Massachusetts has a long way to go toward its goal of achieving price transparency to hold costs down. It was the first state in the nation to mandate price transparency for healthcare services. However, probes into how the law has reshaped patient and provider interactions suggest that it is far from allowing patients to easily shop for healthcare services based on price. Meanwhile, state Attorney General Maura Healey recently issued a report concluding that healthcare costs in the Bay State continue to rise--primarily due to varying prices for the same procedure and a lack of transparency about such prices.

Children's Hospital officials declined direct comment on the bill, citing patient confidentiality issues, but did tell the newspaper, "we believe our prices are competitive with other hospitals that may provide a similar level of care for complex conditions."

To learn more:
- read the Boston Globe article