Why You Could Get a $70,000 Hospital Bill...

Why You Could Get a $70,000 Hospital Bill...

By now, it's simply a fact: Hospitals are expensive.

But how expensive depends on which one you visit.

The New York Times reports that for the first time, the government has released data on the amounts 3,300 hospitals charged Medicare for the 100 most common treatments and procedures, and the variance is shocking.

While a hospital in Livingston, N.J., charged an average of $70,712 to implant a pacemaker, a hospital elsewhere in the state charged $101,945. In Dallas, the average pneumonia bill at one hospital was $14,610, but another hospital across the city charged more than $38,000.

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Hospitals claim that the different prices for treatments reflect sicker patients, longer stays and whether the facility is a teaching hospital, which can have a "higher cost structure." Another contributing factor is that large insurers, such as Medicare, request increasingly higher discounts from hospitals, which consequently raise their prices on treatments to keep from losing money.

On average, hospitals charge 3 to 5 times their typical Medicare reimbursement amount. But it's been documented that some hospitals are charging as much as 10 to 20 times the typical reimbursement, and the highest costs fall on the patients least able to pay—those who are uninsured.

Despite the release of this data, hospitals' billing procedures are as unclear as ever. Knowing that the money for any possible hospital stay that isn't covered by our health insurance comes out of pocket, how are we ever supposed to figure out what we should really pay?

To start, check your hospital bill closely. Up to 80% of bills for health care services contain an error, according to the Access Project, a nonprofit focused on medical debt and charity care.

And remember, you can always negotiate with the hospital to lower your bill.

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