Hip and knee replacements are a growth business, but the costs vary widely

    The number of Pennsylvanians walking around on artificial knees and hips is on the rise.

    More than 53,000 people had a total knee or hip replacement in 2013, up 38.5 percent from a decade earlier, according to a new study from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council.Much of that growth is due to a spike in surgeries for middle-aged patients, though the rate is up for senior citizens, too.

    “We think it is a good thing, from a population health standpoint, to have people be able to exercise and live life in a more active and less painful way,” said Martin Ciccocioppo, vice president for research with the Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania.

    Along with figures on the number of patients who required readmission due to an unexpected complication, the report also includes data on which facilities and surgeons perform the most procedures.

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    “While not applicable to an individual surgeon, in general, higher surgeon volume was associated with a patient’s decreased risk of being readmitted within 30 days after knee or hip replacement (after accounting for patient risk),” the report’s authors wrote. “Higher hospital volume was not associated with the risk of being re-admitted.”

    As for cost, the sticker price for what hospitals charge ranges from less than $20,000 at facilities including Uniontown Hospital in southwestern Pennsylvania, up to as much as $183,000 for a knee replacement at Easton Hospital near Bethlehem.

    “Each patient’s circumstances are unique and their needs for hospitalization and post-surgery treatment reflect this,” wrote Pottstown Memorial Medical Center, which charges the second highest rates for both knees and hips in the state, in a statement.

    “While one knee replacement surgery may be relatively simple, the same procedure may require more hospitalization or care because of another patient’s underlying conditions. Charges can also vary depending on the type of implant put in the patient.”

    No matter what hospitals put on a bill, Medicare reimburses hospitals for joint replacements at a far lower rate, as do most private insurers. Still, Martin Ciccocioppo says patients should consider cost before agreeing to a surgical location.

    “The best thing for an individual to do when they are insured, and they have to get a hip or a knee replacement, is to work with their specific insurer to try to understand both cost to the insurer, and their out of pocket cost.”

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