Last week, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released first-of-its-kind data detailing the prices that hospitals charge for common procedures. The new numbers revealed that there’s a huge range of price fluctuations between different hospitals, with no good reason for why some places are charging so much more than others. Bayonne Medical Center topped the list, billing at a rate more than four times the national average for the 100 most common types of medical treatments.
Does that mean that, since patients at Bayonne are paying extremely well for their time in the hospital, they’re receiving particularly good care? Not really. The New York Times points out that Bayonne Medical Center ranks about average in terms of the quality of its care, no better or worse than most other hospitals in New Jersey. That fits into the broader national trends regarding health costs and health quality — spending more on care isn’t actually correlated with better treatment.
The Obama administration, which is encouraging greater price transparency in the health care industry as one of the central tenets of Obamacare, hopes that making hospital costs public could help encourage Americans to shop around. If New Jersey residents decide they’d rather not receive the particularly expensive care at Bayonne Medical, maybe they’ll decide to go to a different hospital in the area — and maybe that will force Bayonne to lower its prices to stay competitive.
But addressing the United States’ sky-high medical costs isn’t just about better educating patients. In fact, there’s evidence that teaching doctors more about the actual costs of the procedures they’re recommending can also help. Studies have shown that doctors are less likely to order unnecessary tests and procedures when they know how expensive they are. And, in order to further continue to cut down on wasteful medical spending, the U.S. needs to do more research on which specific types of health spending could be pared down without sacrificing the quality of Americans’ health care.