Websites provide average comparisons for surgery costs

By Bill Spencer - Investigative Reporter

HOUSTON - Rising hospital costs are an epidemic in this country with surgery now a $500 billion industry. And most of us have no idea what we're going to pay when we go in for a particular procedure.

Think about it -- we shop for the best deal on milk, eggs, bread, and chicken. But when it comes to surgery, most of us just walk in blind with no idea what we are going to pay.

"Isn't it amazing that when we go looking for a plane ticket to go traveling we get on Expedia.com and look at prices. Couldn't we do the same thing for health care," said Vivian Ho, a health economist at Rice University.

The good news is now a whole list of consumer websites are popping up.  They are websites you can use to quickly find out how much different hospitals are charging for surgery you need.

Local 2 Investigates decided to test them out.

Using the website nerdwallet.com, we compared prices on three of the most common surgical procedures.

The first surgery: Angioplasty -- to unblock an artery:

  • The lowest price: Memorial  Hermann Hospital Houston, with an average hospital cost of $41,689.00
  • The highest price: Houston Northwest Medical Center, with an average charge of $77,065.00
  • The difference: $35,376.00

The second surgery: Knee or hip replacement:

  • Lowest price: Memorial Hermann Surgical Hospital Kingwood, with an average hospital charge of $33,019.00
  • The highest price: North Cypress Medical Center, with an average hospital charge of $126,157.00
  • The difference: $93,138

The third surgery: Pacemaker implantation for heart patients:

  • Lowest price: Memorial Hermann Hospital in Memorial City, with an average hospital charge of $30,819.00
  • The highest price: Houston Northwest Medical Center, with an average charge of $73,363.00
  • The difference: $42,544

All of the numbers are ballpark figures compiled by nerdwallet.com and they come from data collected through the government's Medicare and Medicaid programs. They do not take into account what your insurance company will payBut it's a good price indicator, according to Nerdwallet's Andrew Fitch.

"You're not going to get down to the very specifics of how much you're going to have to pay," said Fitch. "But it gives you a range -- this is the top tier of cost, this is the lower tier of cost."

In a statement from North Cypress Medical Center, a spokesperson said, "North Cypress Medical Center Medicare patients pay one of the lowest prices for hip and knee surgeries in the Houston area, according to nerdwallet.com data. Out of 25 hospitals, NCMC ranked 17th lowest in patient payments via Medicare. For example, according to the chart, NCMC patients paid $13,800 for hip and knee surgeries, compared with Memorial Herman Texas Medical Center's patients and Park Plaza's patients, who paid $21,509 and $15,753, respectively. 

"In reviewing the nerdwallet.com data, NCMC found that in 2011 Medicare patients paid even lower, averaging $11,362 for hip and knee surgeries.

"NCMC provided care to 500 Medicare patients who received some type of hip and knee surgery at North Cypress Medical Center from 2011 to 2013. Not one of the patients paid what nerdwallet.com calls the 'hospital charge.'

"NCMC also questions the way nerdwallet.com calculates the hospital charge, because hip and knee replacements can be much more expensive than hip and knee arthroscopic surgeries, which is a less invasive surgery and does not require a hospital stay. It is not clear from the data how the hospital charge was calculated.

"North Cypress Medical Center is very proud of its Joint Center and the care it provides to its patients, which includes delivering quality services at reasonable prices. The Joint Center consistently receives high quality ratings and offers the talent of some of the leading orthopedic surgeons in the country."

Local 2 has made it easy for you to look at three of these price comparison websites, nerdwallet.com, clearhealthcosts.com and healthcarebluebook.com, we have the links to those websites below.

Click the links below to look at the price-comparison websites:

Nerdwallet

Healthcare Bluebook

Clear Health Costs

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