DENVER — Less than two miles separate HealthOne’s Swedish Hospital in Englewood and Centura’s Porter Adventist Hospital in Denver.
But in the crazy and oftentimes nonsensical world of health care billing, a patient in need of a CT scan might spend a thousand more just by choosing one facility over the other, according to the most thorough study released to date on the cost of Colorado-based imaging services.
Monday, the Center for Improving Value in Health Care released 2016 payment data for everything from brain CT scans to knee MRIs.
The report attempts to shine a light on something hospitals and other medical providers have been loath to discuss publicly for years:
The cost of health care in Colorado varies widely depending on where you go.
For example, the average price for an abdomen and pelvis CT scan (with and without contrast) at Swedish in 2016, according to CIVHC data, was $1,500. The average price of the same thing at nearby Porter Adventist is $530.
Curiously, the same CT scan runs, on average, more than $8,200 at Colorado Plains Medical Center in Fort Morgan.
The average price for a head CT at Boulder Community was $310 in 2016. The average price for the same CT at Valley View Hospital in Glenwood Springs was $2,140.
While geography can force hospitals in more rural areas to charge more, CIVHC found discrepancies within the Denver metro area as well.
Patients at Denver’s Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center – owned by HealthOne -- paid (through insurance, deductibles or both) paid, on average, $920 for a brain MRI (with and without contrast). Patients at St. Anthony, owned by rival Centura Health, paid $530 for the same MRI.
Patients at National Jewish Health paid $1,560 for that MRI.
“There isn’t necessarily a lot of rhyme or reason why the prices are so different,” said CIVHC’s Cari Frank. Frank said one hospital might be more expensive when it comes to one form of imaging and cheaper when it comes to the next.
The bottom line, she said, is that patients need to be aware of the price discrepancies when choosing where to go for imaging services.
“We really need to take a little more ownership over the prices and where we are going to access care, because we are paying more and more of the bill,” said Frank.
Cara Welch, the communications director for the Colorado Hospital Association, sent this statement in an an email to 9Wants To Know:
“Colorado Hospital Association applauds CIVHC for the development of this tool, as our member hospitals and health systems have long supported increased transparency for patients. Many hospitals have this type of information posted on their websites, but it’s helpful to have a comparison available so consumers can visit one site to get an initial idea of the potential costs of an imaging procedure.”
“Price variation exists for a variety of reasons, such as patient acuity, intensity of care, services and specialties, technology and staffing. In addition to price and patient experience, quality is an important factor we encourage consumers to research while shopping for care."
9WTK has compiled a database with the numbers from CIVHC.
The data snapshot, included below, allows patients to search different types of imaging procedures, including MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds.
Click on the box labeled “choose the procedure” to find what different imaging tests could cost. Then, filter by the city you live in, or surrounding areas to find what’s available near you.
The chart will show you the average price range for the city or cities you pick, and the “possible savings” tells you the difference between the highest and the lowest median price for a single procedure in the area you choose.
You’ll see that prices can vary widely by location. For example, the median cost of an MRI scan of the brain in Aspen is $2,880, compared to $1,370 in Aurora. Even within the same city, the data shows variance in price between the hospitals.
The data is provided by the Center for Improving Value in Health Care. CIVHC analyzed the 2016 Colorado All Payer Claims Database. The prices reflect the amounts paid by patients and their insurance companies for each procedure, but does not reflect if the patient had other services provided at the same time.
Depending on your specific insurance plan, your out-of-pocket costs may be different than the numbers presented here. Check with your insurance provider before scheduling an appointment to get the best pricing information specific to you.
For more information from CIVHC, click here.
As always, you can share your medical billing nightmares with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
INTERACTIVE | CIVHC Imaging costs
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