July 16, 2014
2 min read

Costs for health care vary dramatically

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A new study shows wide variation in the amount of money patients pay for common medical treatments and diagnostic procedures. Additionally, the report says the costs of in-network services range widely within cities.

Castlight Health, a health care cloud technology company, analyzed medical claims data, public health records, provider information and provider rate sheets. Average in-network costs of visiting a primary care physician and performing CT scans, lipid panels and MRIs were determined for 30 cities. The results were published in an interactive map.

In San Francisco, for example, the average price per primary preventive care visit cost a patient about $251, but could be as low as $117 or as much as $461, even if the patient stayed within a health care insurance network. On the low end of the spectrum, an average visit in Miami cost $95, and ranged from $82 to $153 in-network.

“When it comes to choosing a health care provider, the consumer experience is akin to shopping at a store without any prices. The confounding reality is that US health care consumers typically don’t know what they will be charged by their providers or that such information is even available,” the company wrote on its website.

In Dallas, a lipid panel can cost from $15 to $343, nearly 23 times greater than the lowest price. In Philadelphia, the report said, a patient could pay between $264 and $3,271 for a CT scan. In Sacramento, Calif., the average cost for a CT scan is $1,404, or almost twice the average in Orlando, Fla. ($611). Even the least expensive CT scan in Sacramento exceeded any similar service in Orlando by about half.

In Sacramento, patients could pay between $936 and $1,756, but in Orlando the gap is very wide, with a $218 price tag on the low end and $1,626 at the top. The story is similar in Cleveland: the lowest price for a CT scan was $331 but it can cost as much as $1,579. In Richmond, Va., the lowest price is a modest $218 and can reach $2,009; the average is $1,307. Big disparities in price also were seen in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin, Texas, as well as in Las Vegas, San Diego, Minneapolis and other major cities.

In Fort Wayne, Ind., the range is not as steep, but the cost is. Patients will not save much by finding a CT scan provider who charges the lowest price of $1,410, considering the highest price is $1,646.

On average, Sacramento, Cleveland and Kansas City, Mo., were the most expensive places to have a CT scan, while Charlotte, N.C., Orlando and Phoenix cost the least.

Also in a press release, Castlight Health said procedures like CT scans are more expensive when performed in hospitals vs. independent labs.

“This analysis provides important information for consumers who get insurance through their employer,” Jennifer Schneider, MD, vice president of strategic analytics for Castlight Health, said in the release. “We want to make them aware of these price variances and ranges — and encourage them to take action to get great care at an affordable price. It’s also important information for their employers, who are footing the U.S. health care bill to a tune of $620 billion annually.”