What do you get when you have a for-profit healthcare system, like the one we have here in America, that not a single one of the 33 other OECD countries has?
You get one hospital in Washington, D.C that charges $115,000 to keep a patient on a ventilator, and another hospital in that same city that charges just under $53,000 for the same thing.
You get one hospital in Miami that charges over $166,000 for treating a heart attack with four stents and major complications, and another hospital in that city that charges around $89,000 for the same thing.
For years, we weren’t able to get a clear picture of what various hospitals charged for similar procedures.
Hospitals have gone out of their way for years to hide their procedure price lists, almost as if they were national secrets. But not anymore, because the cat is finally out of the bag.
Today, the Obama administration and the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released a database that reveals, for the first time, how much the vast majority of hospitals in our country charge for the 100 most common in-patient procedures billed to Medicare.
The data released today covers claims that were filed in the fiscal year 2011, and includes over 163,000 individual charges recorded at more than 3,300 hospitals in 306 metropolitan areas.
The numbers paint a picture of a very nonsensical US healthcare system, where prices for the same exact treatments vary wildly, and at random, at hospitals sometime just a few city blocks from each other.
Let’s look at hospital costs in and around New York City.
The Huffington Post compiled data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report to make a map of hospital costs for treating chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, in the New York City metropolitan area, and the range of costs to treat the same exact disease is mind-boggling.
At the Bayonne Hospital Center just over the Hudson River in New Jersey, treatment of COPD costs a staggering $99,690. Right across the river, back in New York City and at a hospital on the tip of Manhattan, the cost for treating COPD is just over $11,000.
Looking at the entire New York City metropolitan area, the cost of COPD treatment ranges from $7,044 at a hospital in the Bronx, to the $99,690 charged at the Bayonne Hospital Center. And it’s all the same treatment!
In major cities across our nation, the range of prices for similar or the same medical procedures looks more like the ups and downs in the wildly volatile stock market.
It’s important to note that the prices revealed in the data do not reflect the prices that Medicare and insurance actually pay for the various procedures. Medicare and insurance companies pay negotiated rates for the procedures.
Instead, the data tells us what the 49 million uninsured people in our country have to pay for these various procedures out-of-pocket.
The data represents the dilemma uninsured Americans face when trying to decide between life-saving health procedures or living a life of poverty while being buried in mountains of debt.
But the real takeaway from this new data should be just how absurd and crazy it is to have a for-profit healthcare system.
America used to have not-for-profit hospitals and not-for-profit insurance companies. These were mainly required by the states’ hospital and insurance regulation boards.
Then, in 1980, Ronald Regan stepped into The White House and everything changed. Non-profit and community owned became evil, and for-profit and corporate-owned became good. It was all about making a buck.
Insurance companies and hospitals began turning into for-profit money making machines.
Doctors began forming their own practices as corporate entities, and physician costs began to soar.
Prescription drug companies began to squeeze every last penny out of the American public, and the costs of just about every other aspect of healthcare in America has skyrocketed since the Reagan era.
Now, what we are left with is a for-profit Reaganomics healthcare system that charges inexplicable rates for common every-day procedures and lets prescription drug companies fleece the wallets of Americans, while millions are forced to decide between life-saving healthcare or a life of poverty.
If healthcare were part of the commons, if we were to say that healthcare is a right in America instead of just a privilege, none of this would be happening.
We wouldn’t have a hospital in the Bronx, New York charging $7,000 for a treatment, and a hospital a few miles away charging thousands of dollars more for the same procedure.
It’s time to take the American healthcare system out of the hands of corporate profiteers and Wall Street tycoons, and put it back where it belongs, in the hands of the American people.