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 (TeamHealth, Schumacher) which contract to provide hospitalists, radiologists, emergency doctors, etc. Some companies provide doctors to hundreds of hospitals (Envision + Amsurg). Hospital doctors earn $200,000 - $400,000 per year. About half feel fairly compensated. Only a quarter "regularly" discuss the cost of treatment with patients. Over three quarters would choose medicine again and the same specialty.
A. How Patients Can Manage Risk
The heavy penalties which Medicare puts on hospitals for readmitting patients, mean that doctors and hospitals may advise patients not to get treatment, if there is much chance of readmission, even when the treatment would help the patient.
So patients need to worry that advice from doctors, hospitals, or Accountable Care Organizations (ACOs) can be biased away from treatment.
Patients who want treatment can avoid being a subject of hospital penalties and hospital risk by:
Regardless of exemptions, it is possible doctors who primarily see ordinary Medicare patients will have a habit of minimal treatment, even for managed care and private insurance patients exempt from the penalties.
Patients can get a professional advocate, often a senior nurse, to advise them about recommended and alternate treatments. Some will come to the hospital to listen to doctors and advise. Others can interact with patients and doctors on Skype or Google video chat. Cost can be $60-$200 per hour, cheaper than poor health care. As long as doctors and hospitals have hidden incentives to avoid care, patients need expert advocates. (The parallel is with courts, where most people would get a lawyer, in spite of the cost.)
Free telephone help will not be as effective, but it is free for the very ill from Patient Advocate Foundation on skin, breast, cervix, ovaries, prostate, and colorectal cancer, narcolepsy, heart valves, Aetna claim problems, and dealing with other insurers.
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