EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

May 10, 2013

Hospital charges vary greatly

Federal data shows striking differences

Consumers are getting a comparison of health-care charges among the nation’s hospitals this week.

The numbers show wide differences, the federal government acknowledged.

Care for a heart attack without complications cost $25,723 at Parkland Medical Center in Derry, compared to $17,442 at Elliot Hospital in nearby Manchester.

In Massachusetts, Lawrence General charges a heart attack patient $13,297. At Massachusetts General in Boston, the charge is $31,265.

In releasing numbers based on 2011 reporting, the government aims to make the health system more affordable and accountable.

“Users will be able to make comparisons between the amount charged by individual hospitals within local markets, and nationwide, for services that might be furnished in connection with a particular inpatient stay,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said in releasing the information.

Consumers are getting a look at price tags for 100 of the most common treatments and procedures.

Major joint replacements in the leg ranged from about $32,000 at Elliot and Dartmouth-Hitchcock to more than $69,000 at Parkland.

The charges went from nearly $35,000 in Lawrence to about $37,000 at Merrimack Valley Hospital in Haverhill, $37,500 at Holy Family in Methuen and about $57,000 at Massachusetts General.

Treatment of simple pneumonia cost about $9,000 at Elliot and nearly $12,000 at Dartmouth to more than $16,000 at Parkland.

Massachusetts General charged more than $22,000, compared to about $9,500 at Holy Family, $8,500 at Merrimack Valley Hospital and about $8,000 at Lawrence General.

Hospitals questioned the information, taking the position few consumers actually pay those charges.

The American Hospital Association said Medicare unilaterally sets hospital payment rates through regulation, resulting in payments averaging about 95 cents on the dollar for allowed costs, while large insurers negotiate rates.

“Variation in charges, therefore, is a byproduct of the marketplace, so all parties must be involved in a solution, including the government,” AHA president and CEO Rich Umbdenstock said.

“Be careful about drawing too many conclusions from one set of data,” New Hampshire Hospital Association president Steve Ahnen said.

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