New Web site lists prices at Minnesota hospitals

WILLMAR -- If you had your appendix removed last year at the Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital, your hospital bill would have been in the neighborhood of $8,864.

WILLMAR -- If you had your appendix removed last year at the Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital, your hospital bill would have been in the neighborhood of $8,864.

The same surgery would have cost $8,298 at Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar and $10,233 at Meeker County Memorial Hospital in Litchfield.

Prices for 75 of the most common hospital procedures and services are now available on a new Web site, Minnesota Hospital Price Check.

There are limitations to the data. They don't include physician fees, which are usually billed separately. Nor do they indicate what patients might pay out of pocket -- an amount that's influenced by each health plan's coverage and its contractual arrangement with the hospital.

Nevertheless, state officials see it as a valuable first step toward making health care quality and price information more accessible to consumers.


"It's a step in the right direction," said Lorry Massa, chief executive officer of Rice Memorial Hospital in Willmar.

"I think transparency is good. This is just part of that movement toward greater transparency," he said.

The unveiling of the Web site this week marks the first time that Minnesota hospital charges have been made publicly available.

Area hospital administrators say they hope it will help guide consumers toward a better understanding of the cost of hospital care.

"I think it provides some opportunity for people to get some information about pricing," said Mark Paulson, administrator of the Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital.

Consumers traditionally have been insulated from the full cost of their care; now they'll have a better idea of the total bill, he said.

Massa thinks the price list will give consumers a better basis for gauging how hospital prices stack up against each other.

"It means you can compare the hospital in your community with similar hospitals and with the rest of the state," he said. "It's a good place to start measuring."


The Web site, , lists average charges last year for dozens of common hospital services, ranging from an outpatient colonoscopy to a hip or knee replacement.

The charges are what it costs the hospital to provide care for each specific diagnosis.

In most cases, area hospitals fall at or below the state average for charges.

For instance, the average charge for all Minnesota hospitals for an uncomplicated labor and delivery is $6,442.

The average charge at Granite Falls Municipal Hospital, however, is $3,968.At Renville County Hospital in Olivia, the charge is $4,934. At Rice Memorial Hospital, it's $5,099.

Prices also vary -- in some cases significantly -- among hospitals.

An outpatient tonsillectomy at Chippewa County-Montevideo Hospital cost $1,975 last year, while at the Paynesville Area Health Care System it cost $5,781 -- almost twice as much.

Why so much variation? Several factors are at work. Some hospitals care for patients who are sicker, or are equipped with specialized, expensive technology.


Price can be a reflection of the range of services a hospital provides, or the prevailing regional salary scale.

It also can be influenced by a hospital's price structure. Some hospitals, for instance, spread the cost of care equally across all services, while others base their prices on the cost of providing a specific service.

"Everybody is taking different variables into account," Paulson said.

The Minnesota Hospital Association, which developed Minnesota Hospital Price Check and compiled the data, cautions that consumers should be careful about drawing conclusions based solely on price.

Massa echoes that.

The price list "doesn't tell you anything about value. It doesn't tell you what you're actually going to end up paying," he said. "It's not like buying a pair of shoes. It's a more personalized service than that."

Consumers also need to know what their own insurance is willing to cover, Paulson said.

"Obviously providers have different relationships with many different health plans. That makes it more difficult for the consumer to know what their out-of-pocket expense is going to be," he said. "This will help them toward that process but they still need to contact their insurance company."


Consumers who have large deductibles or health savings account could benefit the most from comparison-shopping for health care, Paulson said.

"This gives them the ability to start asking questions. That will probably help those people more than anything," he said.

Massa said he especially hopes that the price list will begin to spark public discussion about how hospitals are paid for care.

"Pricing over the years has become distorted based on payment regulations," he said. "I hope people will begin to ask questions. I think it's going to bring about greater debate about how we got to where we are."

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