Hip replacements in U.S. cost far more than in Belgium

A routine hip replacement surgery in the United States has become so expensive that a similar procedure in an advanced nation such as Belgium is a fraction of the cost, the New York Times reported.

The costs in the U.S. of a hip replacement procedure can easily run $100,000, according to the Times, but 67-year-old Michael Schopenn was able to obtain a new hip in Belgium in 2007 for $13,660. "We have the most expensive healthcare in the world, but it doesn't necessarily mean it's the best. I'm kind of the poster child for that," Schopenn told the Times.

The price obtained by Schopenn is still nearly half of what the Healthcare Blue Book says is the fair market price for a hip replacement procedure.

The major differences: The Belgian government regulates the profits that may be made on biomedical devices, such as hip replacements, whereas in the U.S. the devices can be marked up as much as 100 times its production costs. Belgium's hospitals are also no-frills, lacking amenities, such as gift shops or comfortable furniture for visitors.

The market variables in the U.S. conspire to make the prices for the procedure range from the low five-figures to well over six figures, and make it difficult to get a complete cost quote from providers, according to a study in JAMA's Internal Medicine.

Moreover, common business practices in the United States--such as allowing sales representatives in operating rooms to advise surgeons--are prohibited. And hip device manufacturers often require physicians and other providers to agree not to disclose the prices they pay for the devices. At the same time, Belgium's infection rates are lower than they are in the U.S. for hip replacements.

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- check out the Healthcare Blue Book's hip replacement pricing
- here's the JAMA Internal Medicine study abstract