Do high hospital ‘sticker prices’ mean anything?

    Crozer-Chester Medical Center, Temple University Hospital, Hahnemann University Hospital and Delaware County Memorial Hospital are on a list of medical centers with the highest billing rates in the nation.

    You won’t hear hospital executives bragging about this particular new “Top Hospitals” distinction.

    Last week, the federal government offered up a big data dump of hospital “sticker prices.” When the New York Times culled that information four Philly-area hospitals were among the newspaper’s top ten.

    You don’t have to be an economist to notice that hospital prices are often maddeningly disconnected from reality, but Dan Polsky is an economist, and he’s known about pricey hospital charges for a long time.

    “I didn’t think this was big news, but it’s created a large awareness of how little sense there is in how we know — or learn — about what things really cost in health care,” said Polsky, executive Director of the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at the University of Pennsylvania.

    The government released hospital charges — for Medicare billing — for some common medical procedures. It’s not the actual payments that patients or insurance companies cough up, still consumer advocates largely applauded the data release as step toward transparency.

    Polsky said it’s all still pretty murky.

    “Can I learn about what I’m going to pay before I decide on going to a hospital, to a doctor? I’d like to know so I can make an educated choice, and right now, I don’t know,” he said.

    Local hospitals decline WHYY’s interview requests, but several issued a written statement. Temple University said it never use “charges” to bill uninsured patients, but instead has a separate Charity Care policy.

    Similar to many hospitals around the country, Crozer reiterated that the charges listed in the report from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services are not the same as payments.

    “For example, the report cited that our charges for major joint replacement are $322,000, while in fact our average payment for that procedure was $26,000 per case,” the Crozer statement said.

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