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Cost of health care in Seattle area can vary greatly

The federal government found the costs of identical procedures can vary from region to region, but also between facilities within the same geographic area. (Photo: file)

The same product or service should cost the same everywhere, right? Not when it comes to medical care.

Not only do the cost for procedures vary widely based on geography, even within the same area, you might pay much more depending on which hospital is treating you. Here in the Puget Sound, those differences can at times double the final bill.

“The variation is huge, and I don’t think we all expected it to be quite that large,” says Gerard Anderson, Director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management.

The federal government’s Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services did the analysis, looking at the 100 most common procedures at more than 3,000 hospital across the country that accept Medicare payments.

Gerard says the costs can drive up what you pay into insurance premiums and government programs, and they affect the uninsured even more.

“Nobody’s really paid a lot of attention to them, but they are very significant for people who do have to pay the full charges,” says Gerard.

So, just how much money are we talking about?

Not all hospitals offer identical procedures. I found you’ll pay an average of $17,450 if you’re treated for Bronchitis and Asthma at Highline Medical Center in Burien. You’ll be charged an average of $28,429 if you have the same condition and are treated at Auburn Regional Medical Center. That’s a difference of more than $10,000.

But you’ll pay less at Auburn Medical Center compared to Swedish in Seattle if you go in for a cardiovascular procedure that includes a stent. That will cost you about $15,868 at Auburn and nearly $40,000 at Swedish in Seattle. The price is more than double for the same treatment.

Comparing Seattle and Bellevue, a hip and femur procedure at Overlake Hospital in Bellevue will run you about $17,000. The same surgery at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle will cost about twice as much: more than $36,000.

Robert Zirkelbach with America’s Health Insurance Plans blames hospital mergers and the buyouts of individual doctors’ practices.

“There is very little transparency about what doctors and hospitals are charging for services. If we want to get healthcare costs under control, we need to be focusing on those underlying medical costs,” says Zirkelbach.

There can even be quite a price difference within the same hospital system. Looking at the Swedish Medical Centers, a certain type of vascular procedure will cost a total of nearly $34,000 at the hospital in Edmonds, but nearly $46,000 at the Cherry Hill campus in Seattle. This is the same medical system, same geographic region, but a price difference of about $12,000.

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