Obvious, don’t you think? And yet the idea is wholly foreign to American health care.
When the Clintons came into Washington in 1992, determined to enact universal health care, I said to myself, and shouted to those nearby, that they’d have been wiser to begin with an examination of health care costs, which were obviously not market-priced at the time. Just how out of whack costs were and are, however, even I couldn’t have imagined. Today’s Times features a senior thesis by one Jaime Rosenthal, at Washington University in St Louis. Rosenthal called up more than 100 hospitals to ask how much a hip replacement would cost his (fictitious) grandmother. It should be no surprise that many hospitals had a hard time answering the question. What is a surprise is the range of prices: from $11,000 to $126,000.
Dr. Cram said the study did contain some good news: some of the country’s top-ranked hospitals came up with “bargain basement prices” in response to repeated calls. “If you’re a good consumer and shop around, you can get a good price — you don’t have to pay $120,000 for a Honda,” he said.
But that shopping can be arduous in a market not set up to respond to consumers. To get a total price, Ms. Rosenthal often had to call the hospital to get its estimate for on-site care, and a separate quote from doctors. And many were simply perplexed when she asked for a price upfront, Ms. Rosenthal said, adding, “The people who answered didn’t know what to do with the question.”
Hip replacement is a common procedure that many older people require. Somebody has got some work cut out.