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Experts: Federal Health Numbers ‘Obscure’ Cost Of Procedures

Health experts say numbers released Wednesday showing the base cost of health care services in a number of hospitals should be viewed carefully by consumers.

The numbers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services show that if a patient needs a joint replacement at Bloomington Hospital, it’ll cost a lot more on average than it would at Columbus Regional Hospital.

On average, the cost in Bloomington purports to be more than $51,000.  Columbus Regional charges just more than $30,000 for the same type of procedure.

But Mark Norrell, a former hospital chief operating officer in Kansas and Idaho, says those numbers only apply to uninsured patients.  That’s because each hospital has its own agreements with insurers regarding reimbursements.  So Norrell says consumers shouldn’t take the numbers at face value.

“Unfortunately, it’s fairly limited in its utility,” Norrell says. “The idea is that the Obama Administration and the Medicare program are trying to promote the general concept, the general idea of transparency and accountability.”

Indiana Hospital Association Vice President Brian Tabor says he worries the numbers get in the way of telling consumers whether they’re getting a good price for a quality hospital.

“We’re beginning to see and already seeing in the marketplace those tools rolling out,” Tabor says.  “So I think if anything, it kind of obscures some of the innovation we’re already seeing out there.”

Norrell he says the statistics should encourage people to hospital shop and to be more critical of what they spend on health care and at what hospital, rather than letting doctors dictate those decisions.

The charts do give useful data on which are the most common procedures done or illnesses treated in each facility.  Bloomington Hospital saw more joint replacements than any other covered procedure.  Columbus Regional, meanwhile, treated people for sepsis — a type of inflammatory infection — more commonly than any other malady.

Stan Jastrzebski

WFIU/WTIU News Senior Editor Stan Jastrzebski spent time as a reporter with WGN Radio in Chicago and as an editor at Network Indiana, an Indianapolis news service. Stan is the winner of awards from the Associated Press, the RTDNA, the Indiana Broadcasters Association and the Society of Professional Journalists. He hosts WFIU's Ask the Mayor and anchors WTIU's InFocus.

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