Hospital charges for common procedures rise sharply

Hospital charges for ailments that are fairly simple to treat rose dramatically in 2012 compared to 2011, the New York Times reported.

Charges for chest pain  rose 10 percent nationwide, from $16,815 in 2011 to $18,505 in 2012, according to the Times' analysis of recently updated pricing data from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. The costs grew 8.5 percent for digestive problems, rising from $20,278 to nearly $22,000, despite the fact that admissions for both conditions plummeted between 2011 and 2012.

Vascular procedures also rose10 percent, to $50,863 in 2012 from $46,399 in 2011, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The median hospital price increase for 100 common services was 5 percent, higher than the overall rate of inflation, according to the WSJ.

In individual hospitals, the charges rose even more dramatically, according to the Times. Wuesthoff Medical Center in Florida more than doubled its charges for admitted patients with severe irregular heartbeats between 2011 and 2012, to $53,597 from $25,361. Indiana University Ball Medical Center raised its charges for treating urinary tract or kidney infections more than 70 percent, to nearly $39,000.

CMS released the new figures at the Health Datapalooza conference in Washington, D.C. last week. "We think this is a big deal. We think it's very important that people can have conversations about prevailing charges and variation in charges among hospitals," said Niall Brennan, acting director of CMS' Offices of Enterprise Management, according to the Times.

Industry observers are unsure what specifically is causing the charges to spiral upward, although some pointed to mergers and the cost of buying up physician practices.

Hospitals have come under criticism for obscuring their actual costs by the use of inflated chargemaster prices, which has prompted the CMS to release more pricing data, although there are some doubts whether patients are readily accessing it.

Nevertheless, many hospital officials still cling to the notion of less being more in terms of price data. Chip Kahn, chief executive office of the Federation of American Hospitals, told the WSJ the most recent release of price data "could be misleading because the data is really anachronistic and doesn't reflect what the hospital is paid."

To learn more:
- read the New York Times article
- read the Wall Street Journal article (subscription required)