When healthcare journalist Lisa Zamosky was born in 1969, her parents received a single bill from the hospital for her birth. Total charges: $235.65. Adjusted for inflation, the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates the same bill would run about $1,500. That cost covered a three-day hospital stay and all physician fees, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Such a hospital bill is a relic of the past. The Times reported that such a delivery these days can cost as much as $37,000. Consumer prices have gone up about 6.4 times since 1969. By comparison, delivering a baby has gone up in cost about 20 times.
The physical nature of the hospital bill has changed as well. The bill for Zamosky's delivery was a single page. For Tori Rivapalacio's 2014 delivery, the bill was several inches thick.
"You just throw up your hands," Rivapalacio told the Los Angeles Times. "You can't even dispute them because they're so confusing."
Indeed, a large number of patients have lost trust that hospitals will actually provide them with a reliable estimate of how much their care will cost.
How did this happen? Rapidly rising prices and the way Medicare started paying for hospital charges in the 1980s contributed to healthcare inflation that divorced costs from charges, according to the Los Angeles Times. And insurance companies--which still pay the bulk of hospital bills--have created sophisticated systems to analyze the charges.
"The bills were really designed for wholesale customers--insurance companies, Medicare and Medicaid programs, which have sophisticated systems on the other end to look at and analyze the codes," Richard L. Gundling, vice president with the Healthcare Finance Management Association, told the Los Angeles Times.
However, bundled payments, high-deductible health plans and other trends in healthcare finance could change the appearance of the hospital bill of the future and make it more patient friendly, according to the Los Angeles Times.