Treasure Valley hospital charges vary widely, new data show

adutton@idahostatesman.comMay 8, 2013 

Hospitals in the Treasure Valley market charge a wide range of prices for services, even when they're in the same city or within the same health system, newly released data show.

The federal government on Wednesday disclosed for the first time what hospitals charge – and what Medicare pays — for the 100 most common problems that lead to Medicare patients' admissions to hospitals nationwide.

For example, St. Luke's Regional Medical Center, with hospitals in Boise and Meridian, charged an average of $29,935 for major joint replacement or lower-body reattachment surgery, while St. Luke's in Twin Falls charged an average of $26,068 for that surgery. Saint Alphonsus Health System charged $35,999 for the surgery in its Boise hospital and $28,993 in its Nampa hospital. West Valley Medical Center in Caldwell charged $52,003.

That surgery was the most common procedure paid by Medicaid in 2011 in those hospitals.

Medicare paid a fraction of those amounts — but its payments vary, too. Medicare paid all four St. Luke's and Saint Alphonsus hospitals $13,000 to $13,500 for the surgery and paid West Valley about $16,000.

These five hospitals make up what Medicare classifies as a referral region for Boise. Twin Falls is included because patients there are often referred to the larger Boise-area hospitals.

For some other procedures, the health systems charged more at their hospitals outside of Boise — the St. Luke's hospital in Twin Falls and the St. Alphonsus hospital in Nampa.

The information released Wednesday doesn't answer the big question: Why do some hospitals around the country charge 20 or even 40 times more than others?

"It doesn't make sense," said Jonathan Blum, director of the government's Center for Medicare. The higher costs don't reflect better care, he said, and can't be explained by regional economic differences alone.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services disclosed the information in a large spreadsheet. Click here to download a spreadsheet showing charges and payments in the Boise referral region. Click here to download the national spreadsheet.

Audrey Dutton: 377-6448. The Associated Press contributed.

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