“Profit-Motive” Is Negatively Impacting Your Healthcare: Medicare Provider Charge Data


As part of the Obama administration’s work to make our health care system more affordable and accountable, data are being released by HHS (Health & Human Services) that show significant variation across the country, even within communities as to what hospitals charge for common inpatient services.

“Currently, consumers don’t know what a hospital is charging them or their insurance company for a given procedure, like a knee replacement, or how much of a price difference there is at different hospitals, even within the same city,” Secretary Sebelius said. “This data and new data centers will help fill that gap.”  For example,

  • In Dallas, Las Colinas Medical Center billed Medicare an average of $160,832 for a lower joint replacement. The price was $42,632 five miles away, at Baylor Medical Center.
  • Average inpatient charges for services for a joint replacement range from a low of $5,300 at a hospital in Ada, Okla., to a high of $223,000 at a hospital in Monterey Park, Calif.
  • Average inpatient hospital charges to treat heart failure range from a low of $21,000 to a high of $46,000 in Denver, Colo., and from a low of $9,000 to a high of $51,000 in Jackson, Miss.
  • Ventilator: $115,00 George Washington University vs. $53,000 at Providence (just 5.4 miles apart)
  • Lower limb replacement: $117,000 at Richmond CJW Medical Center vs. 25,600 at Winchester Medical Center
  • Pneumonia: $124,051 in Philadelphia vs. $5,093 in Water Valley, Mississippi.

According to Ron Pollack, executive director of Families USA, hospital pricing is “the craziest of crazy quilts.” He went on to say, “It is absurd — and, indeed, unconscionable — that the people least capable of paying for their hospital care bear the largest, and often unaffordable, cost burdens.”

Medicare has begun paying providers based on quality rather than just the quantity of services they furnish by implementing new programs, such as value-based purchasing and re-admissions reductions.  HHS awarded $170 million to states to enhance their rate review programs, and since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the proportion of insurance company requests for double-digit rate increases fell from 75 percent in 2010 to 14 percent so far in 2013.

The ACA also makes available many tools to help ensure consumers, Medicare, and other payers get the best value for their health care dollar.  To make data from these tools useful to consumers, HHS is also providing funding  to data centers to collect, analyze, and publish health pricing and medical claims reimbursement data.  The data centers’ work helps consumers better understand the comparative price of procedures in a given region or for a specific health insurer or service setting. Businesses and consumers alike can use these data to drive decision-making and reward cost-effective provision of care.

Data are available in Microsoft Excel (.xlsx) format and comma-separated values (.csv) format.

Inpatient Charge Data, FY2011, Microsoft Excel version
Inpatient Charge Data, FY2011, Comma Separated Values (CSV) version

Hospitals determine what they will charge for items and services provided to patients and these charges are the amount the hospital bills for an item or service. The Total Payment amount includes a Medicare Severity Diagnosis Related Group (MS-DRG) amount, bill total per diem, beneficiary primary payer claim payment amount, beneficiary Part A coinsurance amount, beneficiary deductible amount, beneficiary blood deducible amount and DRG outlier amount.

Data provided by CMS (Centers for Medicare/Medicaid Services) include hospital-specific charges for the more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals that receive Medicare Inpatient Prospective Payment System (IPPS) payments for the top 100 most frequently billed discharges, paid under Medicare based on a rate per discharge using the MS-DRG for FY2011.

DRGs represent almost 7 million discharges or 60 percent of total Medicare IPPS discharges. Average charges and average Medicare payments are calculated at the individual hospital level. 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.

There is some debate about how much patients, insurance providers and the government actually end up paying. “It’s true that Medicare and a lot of private insurers never pay the full charge,” said assistant professor at the University of California at San Francisco Medical School, Renee Hsia, “You have a lot of private insurance companies where the consumer pays a portion of the charge. But, for uninsured patients, they face the full bill. In that sense, the price matters.”

To view the new hospital dataset, please go to: http://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/Medicare-Provider-Charge-Data/index.html.

To access the funding opportunity announcement, visit: http://www.grants.gov, and search for CFDA # 93.511.

For more information on HHS efforts to build a health care system that will ensure quality care, please see the fact sheet “Lower Costs, Better Care: Reforming Our Health Care Delivery System,” athttp://www.cms.gov/apps/media/press/factsheet.asp?Counter=4550.

To read a fact sheet about the Medicare data showing variation in hospital charges, please see:http://www.cms.gov/apps/media/fact_sheets.asp.

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