I was washing the dishes about a year ago when a glass shattered in my hand and sliced open my knuckle. I live a few blocks away from an emergency room, but ultimately decided against going because it wasn't worth the money I knew I'd have to pay to get it stitched up.
Turns out, I probably would've gotten a good deal at my local hospital, compared to average prices in the rest of the country (still, of course, a bad deal compared to the rest of the world). The New York Times' latest installment of its "Paying Till It Hurts" series, written by Elisabeth Rosenthal, looks at E.R. prices across the country. They vary significantly.
At California Pacific Medical Center, a single Tylenol -- market price, 50 cents -- goes for $36.78. CPMC's CEO told the Times that the markup was because the hospital was staffed 24/7 and had best equipment. Also because they charge patients who they know will pay for their services (people with insurance) more to compensate for the ones who won't.
CPMC's net income is $200 million, Rosenthal reports. It spends $16 million on charity care.
In North Carolina, a woman was knocked unconscious in a soccer game. When she came to, she made sure her friend drove her to an in-network hospital, using her smartphone to find one. She didn't have to pay for an ambulance or out-of-network fees, so she saved a few thousand dollars.
A woman in Long Island was "so disgusted" by how much an E.R. charged for stitches after she cut her finger while cleaning up after Hurricane Sandy that she took them out herself rather than go back to have them removed.
In one telling visualization, the average amount paid to hospitals and doctors combined for the treatment of a cut finger ranged from $790 in New England to $1,377 in Washington, Oregon and California. It's $893 in the mid-Atlantic region, which includes New York.
Which means that, after I cut my hand last year, if I had jumped on a train to my parents' house in Connecticut and visited an E.R. there, it would've cost me (or, for the most part, my insurance company) less than going to an E.R. in New York -- including the price of the round trip train fare. I'm in Los Angeles right now, and if I were to cut my hand open again, it'd be cheaper to fly back to CT (round trip) and go to an E.R. there.
I don't even want to think about how much cheaper Canada would be.