Medicare charges vary by hospital, report finds

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A Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report released Monday shows that Medicare charges for the same procedure in the same city can vary by tens of thousands of dollars.

CMS reviewed data on how much Medicare services cost at hospitals versus doctor's offices and the difference in costs for non-Medicare patients and is making that information public.

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HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said the data release would help increase transparency about Medicare payments as the agency looks to keep costs down and improve care.

“The release of these data sets furthers the administration’s efforts to increase transparency and support data-driven decision making which is essential for health care transformation,” said Sebelius in a statement.

The agency found wide discrepancies in how much services cost in different regions of the nation and within the same geographic area. In 2012 a major joint replacement surgery cost Medicare $15,901 in Baltimore while the same procedure cost $239,138 in Los Angeles, the report says.

The report also notes that a hospital in Newark, N.J, charged $32,750 to treat heart failures while another hospital in the same city charged $142,000 for the procedure.

The 2012 data lets researchers analyze payments for the 100 most common Medicare procedures at more than 3,000 hospitals around the country such as services for joint replacements or those to treat chest pain.

The database also includes the 30 most common outpatient services and is an update to similar data for 2011 the agency published last year.

“These public data resources provide a better understanding of Medicare utilization, the burden of chronic conditions among beneficiaries and the implications for our health care system and how this varies by where beneficiaries are located,” said Bryan Sivak, Health and Human Services chief technology officer.

“This information can be used to improve care coordination and health outcomes for Medicare beneficiaries nationwide, and we are looking forward to seeing what the community will do with these releases,” he added.

Along with the data release, CMS has put tools on its website such as interactive dashboards, chartbooks and maps to let people compare Medicare charges around the country.