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Report: Ohio Hospital Pricing Varies Widely

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There is a $200,000 difference between the highest and lowest listed price for an inpatient bypass surgery in Ohio. (AdobeStock)
There is a $200,000 difference between the highest and lowest listed price for an inpatient bypass surgery in Ohio. (AdobeStock)
August 25, 2020

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The price tag for the same medical procedure varies greatly from hospital to hospital in Ohio, according to a new report.

The Center for Community Solutions examined "chargemaster" information for Ohio's 206 hospitals - those are prices hospitals set for services, not what consumers pay directly.

Report author Loren Anthes, William C. and Elizabeth M. Truehaft Chair in Health planning and a policy chair at the center, said prices varied greatly with no consistent relationship between hospital type and business model.

However, he argued, hospitals should not be framed as bad actors.

"There are systemic problems. We have a very fragmented, and inefficient system," Anthes said. "We don't pay for things that lead to better health; we pay for things when people are sick. We pay for diabetic amputations more readily than we pay for control of diabetes. "

According to the findings, inpatient bypass surgery had widest price range among procedures, with more than $200,000 between the highest and lowest listed prices.

The research also revealed prices for procedures were not easily available, or listed in plain-language format. And Anthes pointed out that most patients are not direct consumers of the services they receive, but rather the consumers of insurance that negotiates prices on their behalf.

"There's never going to be a situation where a patient is perfectly empowered to understand the health care system. It's one of those things that we buy that requires a lot of trust," he said. "No one's going to shop around for a heart surgery the same way they would for a television."

Hospitals have until January to comply with a Trump administration mandate to establish, update and make public their chargemaster online. Anthes said price transparency alone can't control costs.

"The marketplace isn't as simple as 'we need prices to become public,' because they're already public and it's not changing the way things are priced," he said. "Price transparency is really just a lazy approach to some of the larger, systemic reforms that need to take place."

Among its recommendations, the report calls for Ohio to create an independent government agency to analyze health care spending and suggest policy change.

Disclosure: The Center for Community Solutions contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy & Priorities, Health Issues, Poverty Issues, Welfare Reform. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.
Mary Schuermann Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH