The Wall Street Journal has a good free guide to looking for health care costs, no matter if you pay with Medicare, other insurance, or cash. Finding costs before you get treatment is hard.
Doctors' fees under Medicare are in the Specialists tab above. They show what Medicare pays, and the list price for each procedure from each provider. Medicare costs include the total paid by Medicare, supplemental insurance and patients.
Each patient's cost depends on his or her insurance. For those without insurance, the Medicare level is a starting point for negotiation. In order to know total costs, patients can ask the doctor's office whether an anesthesiologist, assistant surgeon or hospital fee will be needed.
Anesthesiologist fees are in the Specialists tab above.
Hospital fees for the most common 100 diagnoses are in hospital spreadsheets from Medicare, and are mapped nicely at ClearHealthCosts.
For example the data files show that surgeon costs for knee replacement are typically around $1,500, assistant surgeon $300, anesthesiologist $200, and hospital costs (for "major joint replacement or reattachment of lower extremity") averaged $14,000 if there were no major comorbidities and complications (MCC), or $23,000 if there were.
For a few procedures (primarily imaging, tests, counseling, dental extractions or implants, cosmetic procedures), ZendyHealth gives (free) a range of local prices within a radius you choose. They offer you a doctor based on how much you want to pay ($49 referral fee). You cannot use insurance with the doctor, but Zendy helps you submit a claim to your insurance company, so your cost counts against the deductible. For these and other procedures they offer a free consultation. You have to pay their legal bills if there's a problem ("indemnify"), and accept arbitration. You have no choice of provider, and see the name assigned to you only after you have paid the referral fee. For example different MRI centers have different strength magnets, and you are likely to get the cheapest, weakest magnets, which give less precise images. If you have time to search the Specialists tab above, you can find the lowest price providers and negotiate directly.
Costs for treatments in North Carolina are available from Blue Cross/Blue Shield of North Carolina, based on their patients and their contracts with providers: bcbsnc.com/content/providersearch/treatments. These have actual costs for a treatment episode, including hospital and doctors. Very easy to access. The free system compares all providers within any radius of a zip code, up to the whole state. You can sort by cost, name or distance. However there are only 1,200 procedures, no info on how often each doctor does the procedure, voluminous output with typically 3 providers per screen, not downloadable, only North Carolina, no procedure codes, so it is hard to be sure what each item covers, no lab costs or drug costs. Their data come from one year, but they don't say which year.
Doctors' incomes derive from the payments above and the volume each doctor does. Average incomes (after expenses) by specialty range from $200,000 per year for Pediatrics to $440,000 for Orthopedics, with wide variation. Half of some specialties would not choose medicine again if they had the chance, including Orthopedics, Plastic Surgery, Radiology, Urology and Dermatology. Wealth averages $1-2 million, depending on specialty.
Most doctors at hospitals work for large groups which contract to provide hospitalists, radiologists, emergency doctors, etc. Some companies provide doctors to hundreds of hospitals.
Cost-Saving Alternatives Include:
The government pays a lot for people at all income levels. Medicare Part B (doctors) and Part D (drugs), are not paid by the payroll tax, and are paid by premiums and government aid. (Part A, hospitals, is paid by the payroll tax.) Currently the Part B premium is $105 per month per person, and the cost is 4 times as much, $420 per month, so taxpayers pay a 75% subsidy. Premiums go up with income and subsidy is reduced, in several bands of income, but even the highest income participants get 20% subsidy.
The current premium is about 2% of income (red line above). It is
The Bipartisan Policy Center recommends starting bands at lower incomes (p.59 of full report), which result in higher premiums (and lower subsidies - green dashes above):
Kaiser summarizes a variety of 2014 Budget proposals involving 15% increases in the premiums paid by high income participants, starting the first band lower, and slowly lowering all bands by not adjusting for inflation for several years (red dots above). Premiums would be:
A Tucson blogger recommends charging 5% of income, up to the full cost (purple line above). Dots show bands of income, where people pay
This option charges low income people the current $105, since Medicaid already pays the premium for most of them. Dropping the premium to 5% for low income people would cost Medicare more, but save an equivalent amount in Medicaid assistance, so the $19 billion overall savings would remain. It is far more than the $1.5 billion saved by the readmission penalty. Incomes can be adjusted for cost of living (purchasing power parity) by using US government locality pay. AARP presents arguments for and against basing premiums on income.
In the spreadsheet you can try different percentages and bands. A 3% charge could have bands of income where people pay
The graphs show subsidies people would receive from various proposals. The current Medicare subsidy is large, even at incomes well over $100,000. The government does not subsidize food or housing for people at those incomes. The highest income limit on Food Stamps is $15,000 for one person, $20,000 for two; in subsidized housing it is $55,000 for one, $63,000 for two (Honolulu). Housing tax benefits do go to higher incomes, but people still have to pay the basic cost themselves. Why does the government make such large direct payments for health insurance for people with incomes over $100,000?
Financial Data (below)
Quality measures and mixed incentives
Readmission penalties or xls (6MB)
Biggest penalties (methods)
Previous data: Readmission Penalties (August 2013, 3 MB xls)
List of Accountable Care Organizations (many include hospitals)
Other Medicare data
Medicare Costs, Premiums, and Alternatives
Hospital Financial Statements
A spreadsheet (5MB) shows each hospital's financial statements, and many Medicare calculations at each hospital. It includes both Medicare and non-Medicare revenue and spending. It is compiled by Medicare to provide a context for Medicare spending in each hospital, and is called a "Medicare Cost Report"
The spreadsheet includes:
The spreadsheet has brief labels; fuller explanations are in the original Medicare form and instructions. Chapter 40 of Medicare's manual has the form (R6P240f), including work sheets S (p.1), A (p.22), E (p.84), and G (p.100). Chapter 40 also has the instructions (pr2_40, abbreviations are on pp.9-11), which can answer many questions about the entries on the form. The current format has been used since 2010, and other data are available back to 1995.
Another article shows helpful commands for the spreadsheet.
The source also has each hospital's occupancy rate for several departments: general, maternity, ICU, coronary care, burn, hospice, psychiatric, rehab, etc. These have not been put in this spreadsheet. If you would find the occupancy rates useful, please leave a comment below or send an email.
The original Medicare databases are available from 1995 to the present. They are far more complex than the spreadsheet, with 3 types of records, and millions of records, since every number and answer on each form has a separate record. For those who need it, a CMS documentation page has record counts, a spreadsheet of hospitals covered, and layouts. The Medicare database averages 3,000 numeric records and 600 alpha records per hospital each year. 65 key items are in the spreadsheet, and others can be available if needed.
Other Hospital Financial Data
Electronic Municipal Market Access (EMMA) has PDF copies of operating expense and audited financial statements for each hospital (or other facility), if it has outstanding tax-free bonds. Put hospital name in their search box, to list its past & present bonds. Click any bond which is still outstanding (on right), accept the disclosure, then click "Continuing Disclosure" to see annual and sometimes quarterly data. The data are similar to the spreadsheet above, but in PDF, often with more data from the past, but fewer hospitals.
"Summary of audit findings and federal awards" is an Audit Clearinghouse form a few pages long for each hospital showing checkoffs for any audit findings, and the amount of each federal grant spent during a year ("awards"); it does not cover Medicare or Medicaid, since these are exempt from the federal "single audit" rules. It also shows address, Employer ID number (EIN) and DUNS number.
IRS form 990 is available from Guidestar for US nonprofit hospitals. It shows total revenue and expense and highly paid staff (schedule J ) and contractors (VII-B). It also shows total received from Medicare and Medicaid in section VIII-2 "Revenue, Program Service," and several types of expenses in section IX, balance sheet in X, political spending in schedule C.
Canadian nonprofits (non-governmental organisations, NGOs) have financial information at donate2charities.ca
Hospital bills for 100 most common diagnoses, 2011 and 2012, for US and each hospital.
Explanation of General Medicare Payment Formula for Hospitals
The explanation is based on information from
Many numbers change each year. There are links to Medicare's "home page" of each year at the bottom of the main CMS readmission page.
Hospital operating base or "Specific standardized amounts"
Hospital capital base
Both hospital bases are multiplied by the DRG weight (Table 5).
Readmission reduction for "excess" readmissions in past years, based on operating costs plus payments for new technology, but excluding capital, and adjusted for transfers.
DSH for poor people
IME for teaching
Outlier payments for very costly hospital stays cover 80% of hospital losses over $23,000 (90% for burns). These total about $16 billion per year and they average about 2.9% of payments for most procedures, including the procedures subject to readmission penalties. They are higher on a few other procedures.
Summary inpatient costs released by Medicare include DRG amount (operating + capital), disproportionate share, teaching, and outlier payments. Operating cost (the base for readmission penalties) is about 73% of these summary costs.
Transfers after short stay get lower payment
New technology add-on payment (NTAP) added if applicable
Large Urban Areas get extra factor, meaning Metro Statistical Areas over 1 million people and New England County Metro Areas over 970,000.
Organ acquisition is paid separately
Value-based purchasing VBP has adjustments, based on operating costs, not capital.
Sole community hospitals (SCH) are paid by other formulas if higher
Medicare dependent hospitals (MDH) are paid by another formula if higher
Low volume hospitals get more, by formula
Qualifying hospitals are in the bottom quartile of counties on Medicare spending per enrollee, and get more
Hospitals not reporting quality data get reduction
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