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.
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?
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