By Shawn Kennedy, AJN editor-in-chief
We all know that prices for medical procedures often vary without rhyme or reason. But an article on Vox.com brought home just how ridiculous this price variation really is. The article describes the findings of a new study published in BMJOpen, the open access arm of the British Medical Journal.
The study evaluated costs charged for 10 common blood tests at more than 100 general acute-care California hospitals. Most were not-for-profit, urban, non-teaching hospitals with under 300 beds and an average of 25% Medicaid patients and 41% Medicare patients. The results were astounding:
“We found significant variation in charges for 10 common outpatient blood tests performed at California hospitals. For example, hospitals charged a median of US$214 for a basic metabolic panel, but the charges ranged from US$35 to US$7303. A lipid panel generated a median charge of US$220 at California hospitals, but the maximum charge of US$10, 169 was over a thousand times the minimum charge of US$10.”
It seems incredible: $10 vs. $10,000 for a lipid panel. As the authors conclude:
“These findings demonstrate the seemingly arbitrary nature of the charge setting process, making it difficult for patients to act as true consumers in this era of ‘consumer-directed healthcare.’
As nurses, we often may not be aware of the actual costs of the medical tests our patients receive. But some patients are beginning to ask. As consumers paying more each year for health care, we should ask questions. Inflated costs hurt everyone in the long run, as insurance companies pass along the costs in the form of higher premiums and federal programs tighten up enrollment and reduce reimbursements to hospitals and providers.
So become a smart consumer—the next time you need a blood test, ask how much it costs.