Friday, May 17, 2013

Price shopping for surgery

We all price shop for things. If the gas station across the street is five cents cheaper per gallon, we might go there. If one brand of milk is cheaper than the other, we will probably grab the cheaper one. Some of us coupon clip and research prices online.

We also all have some splurges. Maybe its hand bags, maybe its shoes, maybe its chocolate. These are the items that we purchase regardless of the price. Maybe its that Coach bag or the Manolo Blahnik shoes that we want no matter what. We just blindly get what we want.

So where should our surgery shopping go? If you think about it, most of us have been treating surgery in the second category as a purchase without looking at the cost. Should we be doing this? Or should we shop around and look at price first?

Two recent studies showed the range of appendectomies (done at Washington University) and hip surgery (done at University of California San Francisco). The first ranges from $1529 to 186,955 and the second $10,000 to $125,000. I'm not kidding. My first thought is that there surely must be some sort of quality variance here but if we leave that out for a moment, aren't these ranges amazing?

In any other circumstance if someone said you could get the same car for either $10,000 or $125,000 - which would you take? The $10,000 of course.

But most of us don't seem to apply this same price consciousness when it comes to medical procedures. Maybe we think insurance will cover it so it doesn't matter to me. Yes  your insurance covers it but high priced procedures are on of the many things causing continual premium increases. Or if I go to another hospital will I have to get a new doctor? Maybe a new doctor will be even nicer. You don't know until you try. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut of going for treatment to the same place.

Wouldn't it make sense to pay a little attention to the price? As part of the health care changes still coming into play medical providers will need to offer some price transparency to patients. But that is still a long way off.

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