Washington hospital prices vary broadly

As is the case in most parts of the country, hospital prices in Washington state are all over the map, with multiples of three or four between facilities for the same procedure.

A knee or hip replacement surgery, for instance, costs $92,000 at Multicare Good Samaritan Hospital in Puyallup--four times the cost of the identical surgery at Wenatchee Valley Hospital, according to the Washington Health Alliance, a not-for-profit advocacy group, which released the price data for the state's hospitals. The data was culled from Medicare reports from 2011 and 2012.

"Understanding hospital sticker prices in advance of a hospital stay can help both insured and uninsured patients reduce sticker shock," John Gallagher, a spokesperson for the organization, told the Seattle Times.

The average bill for stroke care at Washington hospitals ranged from $10,835 to as high as $37,066--a 342 percent differential, according to the alliance's data.

Price variations among hospitals is no surprise. Prices among California hospitals for the same procedures varied as much as a factor of 2.7 times, according to a 2012 report by the CALPIRG Education Fund.

However, Medicare actually pays the hospitals far less--in the case of Multicare, less than a quarter of what it billed. As for the stroke patients, the program pays the hospitals between $3,703 to $7,583 per discharged patient.

But all the flying price data only serves to hurt patients, according to the alliance.

"Reducing the cost of healthcare is a top priority of our organization," said Nancy A. Giunto, executive director of the alliance, in a statement. "But as a community, we cannot reduce costs if we don't know them. The results of this report confirm what the alliance and others in the healthcare community have always suspected: Just as there is with quality, there is significant variation in pricing among hospitals."

To learn more:
- check out the Washington Health Alliance statement and the report (.pdf)
- read the Seattle Times article