Patients who comparison shop for surgical procedures will find more than one-third of healthcare providers across the nation cannot or will not provide full estimated prices, a new study by University of Iowa Health Care and Iowa City VA Medical Center has found.
The researchers contacted two hospitals in every state and the District of Columbia and posed as the representative of a 62-year-old woman seeking the cost of an elective total hip arthroplasty (THA). Of the 102 hospitals contacted, 16 provided no price for the procedures and 22 provided only a partial price–either the hospital fee or the physician fee, but not both.
The study also polled the top 20 hospitals for the procedure in the country, according to U.S. News & World Report, and of those, three provided no price and five provided a partial price.
The study, conducted by James A. Rosenthal, Xin Lu, and Peter Cram, was published online in the JAMA of Internal Medicine. The researchers also found wide variation among those providers who provided pricing for the THA procedure, ranging from $11,100 to $125,798.
Only 10 of 102 hospitals could or would provide a complete estimate. The researchers were able to get a total price from another 54 providers by calling both the hospital and the affiliated physician group.
Nine of the top 20 hospitals (45 percent) were able to provide a complete estimate of the procedure, and researchers only had to call the affiliated physician group for three facilities to get the total price.
“We found it difficult to obtain price information for THA,” the study’s authors concluded. However, based on the prices that were reported, “Patients seeking elective THA may find considerable price savings through comparison shopping.”
As part of healthcare reform patients will be incentivized to price shop providers to find those that provide the highest quality at the lowest price. While data on hospital and physician quality is widely available, “Data on hospital and physician pricing remain much more difficult to obtain,” the study concluded. “It is unclear how feasible it may be for patients to obtain pricing data for common medical services and how price estimates might vary by health care provider.”