Ross: $6,000 drill bit highlights absurdity of hospital prices

Mar 23, 2021, 7:15 AM | Updated: 11:16 am

It was one of the Trump administration’s least controversial rules, requiring that hospitals post their prices online so we can search for the best deal.

The rule kicked in at the beginning of the year, and it appears that some hospitals initially resisted. The Wall Street Journal reported it discovered hospitals posted their prices already, but then added a snippet of hidden code to their web sites that blocked search engines from indexing the information. Sneaky.

The Journal says the code seems to have disappeared – and I can vouch for that, because when I started searching for hospital prices list, I got all sorts of hits. In fact, when I searched for the price list at UW Medicine, I got an Excel spreadsheet with 16,384 lines.

Cheapest procedure: A Pfizer COVID vaccine shot for 83 cents. Most expensive: A pacemaker sensor the hospital bills at $179,418.

Here’s another one: On line 15,089 on the spreadsheet, there’s a 2.8 millimeter drill bit that the hospital bills at $6,565.46. On a medical supply website, you can buy it for $510.

So, points for transparency.

But here’s the takeaway: Even when hospitals are 100% transparent and post their entire cost list, are you going to read it? And more to the point, are you going to read it when you’re in the kind of pain that requires a $6,000 drill bit?

If we’re facing surgery, we don’t care what the drill bit costs.

It’s nothing like shopping for, say, granola. And if we’re comparing brands of granola, we all know what to look for. But comparison shopping for hospitals is part of this fantasy that competition will drive down the cost of health care. What it seems to drive instead is hospital mergers.

Based on the prices I’ve seen lately in the cereal section, I don’t even think it works for granola either.

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Ross: $6,000 drill bit highlights absurdity of hospital prices