So Cheap, I’ll Take Two!

Paul Levy

WBUR/CommonHealth reporter Rachel Zimmerman went shopping recently for a pelvic ultrasound.  She summarizes the results on a great new website called Healthcare Savvy.  Here’s an excerpt:

I called each facility, and here are the prices I was quoted for a pelvic ultrasound:

–Mass. General: $2847 or $2563 (more on this later)
–Mt. Auburn: $971.96
–Diagnostic Ultrasound Associates: $516

All three quotes were for the imaging only and did not include professional services or other additional costs, I was told.

So, is it just me, or is a five-fold difference in price for the same procedure at three greater Boston facilities kind of shocking?

I called MGH back to make sure I heard right. Weirdly, on Wednesday, the ultrasound price was $2,847, but on Thursday it was $2,563. (Do I hear $2,000?) I called the hospital’s PR office for a comment on why it costs so much more. Here’s the statement they sent me from Sally Mason Boemer, Senior Vice President of Finance: “MGH typically benchmarks our gross charges with like institutions and find our charge levels to be consistent with other urban medical centers that have a significant amount of complex care, teaching and research missions, and a high uncompensated care burden.”

Paul Levy is a former large hospital CEO and now, an advocate for patient-centered, efficient care. He writes at Not Running a Hospital.

One thought on “So Cheap, I’ll Take Two!

  1. Amen!

    Even as patients, we are also consumers. We must take part in our own health care with the recommendation of our trusted Physicians. However, there is no call for Physicians to dictate what vendors should be used to perform services. Consumers beware that many Physicians are recieving financial and other incentives to steer patients aka “customers” to a particular service provider that has no medical benefit from any other provider. This turns Physicians in to business men and releases the core focus of providing the best care for the patient. As patients, and Americans in a economic downturn, we should question the care and the pricing. If you do not like the medical premium increase you recieved last year during renewal, and you question, what happened, think about your own “spending habits” in relation to your healthcare. Do you go around making informed decisions evaluating necessity and pricing models or do you simply go to the providers with the prettiest offices that are close to your home or office? Do you notice, new facilities are popping up everywhere with shiny new lobbies with cappucino makers? Why are hospitals able to build when the economy as a whole cannot and most industries are failing? The answer is the consumers are a)unaware of costs b)unaware of how to compare costs c) feel entitled to access to all care regardless of cost. We shop everything in our life, except health care. We like to spend our insurance carrier’s money. It makes us feel like the policy premiums are valuable. It is like teenagers with their parents credit card, if it’s not your own money you are spending, go for the brand names and skip looking at the price tag. When that medical insurance renewal increase comes around, we want to look at all the parties but ourselves. Until Providers, facilities, and vendors include price transparency and consumers take notice, there is no opportunity for healthcare reform in this country. The healthcare buck has to stop somewhere.

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