The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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May 8, 2013

Hospital billing rates vary widely in Minnesota

Feds reveal hospital charges

MANKATO —

Mayo Clinic Health System in Mankato charged an average of $26,449 for a joint replacement in the 2011 fiscal year. The same procedure cost $35,014 at St. Mary’s Hospital in Rochester, $31,592 in Mayo Clinic Health System in Fairmont and $54,854 in Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids.

It costs as little, on average, as $5,300 at an Ada, Okla., hospital and as much as $223,000 in Monterey Park, Calif.

In an attempt to remove the veil on hospital pricing, the federal government on Wednesday morning told the public what more than 3,000 U.S. hospitals charge for their most common procedures. It also reported what the hospitals charge Medicare for the same procedures, typically a much lower figure than what is charged to people without insurance.

The wide variations among hospitals are perverse and often baffling.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Jonathan Blum, Medicare deputy administrator, told the Associated Press Wednesday. The higher charges don’t reflect better care, he said.

And the amounts are too huge to be explained by obvious differences among hospitals, such as a more expensive regional economy, older or sicker patients, or the extra costs of running a teaching hospital, he told AP.

There were wide disparities within Minnesota, as well.

For kidney failure with complications, the average bill at Rochester’s Mayo Clinic Methodist Hospital was $21,862. In Mayo’s Albert Lea hospital, the same procedure costs an average of $9,846.

Though a Mayo Clinic official was not available to answer questions about these disparities on Wednesday, hospitals often note that few patients pay these bills. The uninsured can be stuck with them, though, especially if they don’t try to bargain. And even the insured sometimes pay a percentage of these bills before insurance kicks in.

It’s easy to see one place where customers might want such bargaining to begin, as the data also show how much hospitals charge Medicare for these procedures.

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