Web site compares hospitalization costs - East Valley Tribune: News

Web site compares hospitalization costs

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Posted: Wednesday, May 7, 2008 12:43 am | Updated: 9:31 pm, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

Maybe you’re in the market for knee replacement surgery or an angioplasty, or looking for alcohol detox treatment. Now you can go online to compare the costs of in-patient hospitalization for roughly 1,200 conditions and procedures at more than 80 hospitals statewide.

The Hospital Choice Web site, launched Tuesday by the industry’s Arizona Hospital and Health Care Association, uses data gathered by the state Department of Health Services to compare, among other things, average charges, length of stay and the number of procedures performed at each hospital

The costs don’t include bills for surgeons, anesthesiologists or other medical providers, nor are they anywhere close to the rates insurance companies negotiate with hospitals. Those with insurance still have to call their health plans to find out whether procedures will be covered and still have to use a hospital that extends privileges to their doctor.

But for the growing number of uninsured and self-insured, the online database offers the first look at which hospitals might provide the best buy.

And it reveals some eye-opening differences in the cost of care across the state and even across town.

“It’s not the holy grail of transparency,” said hospital association CEO John Rivers. “It’s just the first step down a long road we intend to take.”

Transparency has become a buzz word in recent years as the cost of health care skyrockets and more people find themselves uninsured, underinsured or self-insured. Unlike most goods and services, medical costs are often shrouded in mystery until months later, when the bill arrives.

Two years ago Medicare started posting information about their payments for medical procedures, including the range of costs per county and the number of procedures performed at each hospital.

Medicare also provides online quality information about how well hospitals care for patients, including mortality rates and how well they perform on measures related to common in-patient treatments, such as heart attacks and pneumonia.

The notion behind transparency is that if patients can comparison shop, as they do for groceries and automobiles, they’ll be more in charge of their own health care and the resulting competition could drive down costs.

“It will be interesting to see how the hospitals react to this,” said Eugene Schneller, professor and former director of Arizona State University’s School of Health Administration and Policy. “Are you going to see competition really lead to (lower prices)? Are you going to have a Costco out there?”

Schneller said that consumers should be able to compare cost, quality and volume to get the full picture of how hospitals are doing.

The hospital association hopes to provide data on quality on the site eventually, but it’s not currently available for all Arizona hospitals.

“Getting into the quality and the safety side is going to be the next step with this,” said Larry Smith, chief financial officer for Phoenix Children’s Hospital and chairman of the hospital association committee that developed the site.

The Web site shows that hospital costs can vary dramatically within the metropolitan area. For example, the cost of knee replacement surgery at Scottsdale Healthcare Shea hospital averages $41,210, compared to $85,624 at Chandler Regional Medical Center. The county average is $47,547.

Arizona hospital charge data has been collected for more than 20 years, under a 1985 state law, but it was difficult for the public to retrieve until now. The data on the Web site is for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2007, and will be updated twice a year, beginning this fall.

The site is modeled after one run by the Wisconsin hospital trade group, and there are 20 other states with similar online tools.

It also links users to hospital Web sites, which administrators hope will help people sort out the hospital payment policies before they become patients.

Hospitals will negotiate discounts for patients who pay out of pocket and also give away millions of dollars each year in charity care.

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