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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Cost of Medical Procedures Vary Between South County, State

The cost of colonoscopies, MRIs, CT scans and mammograms can shift a lot from county to county.
It costs about $1,000 more to get a colonoscopy at South County Hospital than it does in Providence, but MRIs, CT scans and mammograms are slightly cheaper in your backyard than at the average hospital in providence and throughout Rhode Island.

That's according to data from New Choice Health, a private company that encourages people to become smarter healthcare consumers.

New Choice estimates colonoscopies cost about $3,500 in Washington County, compared to just $2,500 in Providence County, and $2,700 on average across Rhode Island. But a CT scan is more than $200 cheaper at South County than the state average and an MRI is about $100 cheaper. A mammogram is similar in price across the state.

EDITOR'S NOTE: using the same database, I checked the prices charged by Westerly Hospital and its soon-to-be new owner Lawrence & Memorial for a couple of the same procedures. Westerly charges an average of $4,300 for a colonoscopy and L&M charges $4,700. Westerly charges $400 for a mammogram and L&M charges $750. 

These big regional differences have been in the news lately: As the Washington Post wrote on Wednesday, "One hospital charges $8,000 - another $38,000." Using the same data as the PostThe New York Times listed out the prices of a series of procedures in hospitals across the country.

The Times and the Post used data from Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Patch worked with New Choice Health to examine the cost of four well-known procedures in Patch communities all across the country and found wide disparities – CT scans, colonoscopies, MRIs and mammograms. The examination revealed the costs can vary by thousands of dollars even within the same community.

Take Orange County. A CT scan in the sprawling suburban area can go for as little as $1,790 or for as much as $6,130 – a difference of more than $4,000. The cost of a colonoscopy in Suffolk County Massachusetts, can be as little as $2,570 or as much as $6,000.

The prices from New Choice Health reflect the “list price” for these procedures – kind of like the sticker price on a car. Health insurance companies often end up getting different discounts and reimbursements depending the arrangements they have worked out with providers. But the point, says New Choice’s Brian Keigley, is to give consumers the information they need to negotiate for themselves.

Looking at the data, some trends seem to emerge. Often the communities with the well-known medical research centers seem to be some of the most expensive places to have procedures done – or they at least go higher on the high-end of costs.