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How Much Did You Say? Hospital Costs Vary in CO

June 17, 2013

DENVER - Big-box stores in Colorado may be doing price-matching for customers, but hospitals certainly do not. According to a new report, the price tags for health care in Colorado hospitals vary widely, with some procedures costing double the average rate, even compared to other hospitals in the same city. The federal government recently released the information to the public for the first time, and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy crunched the numbers. Its senior health policy analyst, Kyle Brown, said the report sparks some questions.

"These are good questions to be asking, obviously, and this is why we really need more information like this, to help us understand what's driving these charges and what's driving increases in health care costs," he said.

Among the examples of price discrepancies: A respiratory infection with complications cost $79,000 to treat at one hospital - and $14,000 at another. Possible explanations for cost differences include whether a hospital is training medical students or whether it treats more patients who are critically ill.

Brown said he discovered no consistency in the data between hospitals in metropolitan and rural areas. He hopes the information and the questions his report raises will be valuable in the state's discussion on how to cut health care costs.

"And it's illuminating, it's frustrating for consumers, obviously, to see this kind of price variation and not understand why," he remarked.

Brown studied the average amounts Colorado hospitals charged Medicare for the 100 most common procedures. Currently, Congress is looking for ways to make Medicare more cost efficient without having to cut services.

The full report is to be found at tinyurl.com/mkjtgmx.

Stephanie Carroll Carson, Public News Service - CO