Finally, There's an Easy Way to Compare Hospital Costs

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By MANDI WOODRUFF

When the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services went public with the first-ever comprehensive data on disparities in hospital billing last week, we knew it would be a game-changer.

First of all, the differences are massive. A pacemaker implant that might cost a patient $36,012 in one hospital, might cost $143,124 down the road at a different hospital. There's no clear explanation as to why, and -- until now -- no simple way for patients to go about finding out if they could get a better deal by shopping around for medical procedures first.

Since Medicare and privately insured patients typically don't pay the full price for procedures, it's the uninsured who will find the database most useful.

That's what makes the new database such a huge deal.

But there's just one problem we have with it: It's a beast to navigate.

It's basically the Mother of all spreadsheets, packed with post- and pre-insurance prices for the 100 most common procedures at over 3,300 hospitals.

Luckily, some genius has funneled all of that data into a much simpler web tool at opscost.com/.

Just punch in your city and the procedure you'd like to compare and the tool will come up with an easy-to-read list of costs at hospitals in the area.

The site is something of a side project for the developers behind the startup rentmetrics.com, a similar site for property values.

"We saw the data get released and realized how important it was," co-founder George Kalogeropoulos said in an email. "But [we] also saw that it was only available in a relatively inaccessible format (160,000 row Excel sheet). The site has gained a lot of traction."

The uninsured have the most to lose from price discrepancies, since they don't have the benefit of Medicare or a private insurer to bear the brunt of the cost burden. Until now, there hasn't been a list of charges for common medical procedures anywhere near as comprehensive for consumers to sort through.

If anything, now we know that just like any consumer product, it pays to shop around for medical care - or, at the very least, try to negotiate.

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