New Fed Data Show Hospital Prices Vary Wildly: The Mass. Version

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(Data visualization above: Alex Kingsbury, WBUR)

Today is a glorious day for health care wonks who see great founts of Medicare numbers as enticing Big Data playgrounds just begging for the analytical equivalent of gymnastics on the monkey bars.

The federal government has just released hospital prices on 100 common procedures, and though many studies have already documented the dramatic cost variation among hospitals — here’s a recent one — the numbers have never before been this accessible. The Washington Post does a wonderful job of providing context and translating some of the data into visual form here, including a useful feature titled  “How much do providers charge in your state?”

Of course I provincially plugged in Massachusetts, and was surprised to see that though we’re reputed to have among the highest costs in the country, we’re below the national average on the 10 categories shown, ranging from pneumonia to heart failure.

WBUR’s Alex Kingsbury puts his data-visualization talents to excellent use on the Medicare data in the map above, showing the variation in costs for treating one condition, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, at each of the state’s hospitals. They range from $8,918 to $52,729. [More on these striking gaps from WBUR's Martha Bebinger here: Crazy, irrational hospital billing (with no connection to quality.)]

Above, click on each blue pin to see what each facility charges. Or if you’re not a geographical type, you can check out the raw Medicare numbers here, and here’s a list of the data points Alex used:

Average Cost Of Treating Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease:
These listings come from a database released on Wednesday by the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.


Mt. Auburn Hospital

$15, 132
Sturdy Memorial Hospital

Lawrence General Hospital

Cambridge Health Alliance

Cape Cod Hospital

Cooley Dickinson Hospital

Bay State Franklin Medical Center

Carney Hospital

Harrington Memorial Hospital

St. Anne’s Hospital

Holyoke Medical Center

Anna Jaques Hospital

Wing Memorial Hospital and Medical Center

Boston Medical Center Corporation

Beverly Hospital Corporation

North Shore Medical Center

St. Elizabeth Medical Center

Berkshire Medical Center, Inc.

Marlborough Hospital

Baystate Mary Lane Hospital

Signature Healthcare Brockton Hospital

Clinton Hospital Association

Jordan Hospital, Inc.

Lowell General Hospital

Noble Hospital

Mercy Medical Center

Quincy Medical Center

Hallmark Health System

Massachusetts General Hospital

Morton Hospital

Southcoast Hospital Group, Inc

Baystate Medical Center

Holy Family Hospital

Saints Medical Center

Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital-Needham

Emerson Hospital

Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center

Milford Regional Medical Center

Heywood Hospital

Nashoba Valley Medical Center

South Shore Hospital

Newton Wellseley Hospital

Winchester Hospital

Milton Hospital

Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Good Samaritan Medical Center

Turfts Medical Center

Faulkner Hospital

Norwood Hospital

Falmouth Hospital

UMass Memorial Medical Center

Lahey Clinic Hospital

Merrimack Valley Hospital

Metrowest Medical Center

St. Vincent Hospital

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  • Veritas

    When are our leaders in the Commonwealth going to have the spine to do the right thing and release the meaningful numbers , I.e. the actual payments by insurers to the health systems in the state? What are they hiding?

  • Ralph Longton

    What happened to the promise of Romneycare? Where is the competition? Where is the reduction in costs? We have lived with this lie for nearly ten years, it has spread to the greater country. When will we open our eyes and stop electing liberal morons that have a need to dabble in everything?

  • road.rep

    The public doesn’t care! The charge to you or me is our co-pay. That’s all we care about. As long as “health insurance” is really “health maintenance” and almost all of our costs are covered, we don’t care what the true cost is. And I’ll bet the true cost has NOTHING to do with the data in this article. Wanna know why our health care system is dysfunctional and broken. Here is your answer…..the true costs are hidden and irrelevant to the consumer. I can’t think of any other industry where that paradigm exists.

  • Paul Levy

    This CMS data is really pretty useless, as Dennis suggests. More here:

    The real data exists and is in the hands of the state’s CHIA. When will it free up that information? More here on that topic:

    • Reaesonable?

      Copay is an distraction.
      Premiums are what matter.
      Those premiums go to pay the negotiated costs between hospitals and payers.
      . Those premiums keep going up and that comes out of our pay checks.
      We are ub a massive health care bubble folks.

    • Veritas

      Thank you Paul for your comments. Value, cost conscious care will never come to this country if the real costs are not completely transparent.

  • Dennis Byron

    It would really be useful if Rachel or Carey or Martha used their pull to get a simple answer from the hospital association as to the actual use of the so-called “chargemaster.”

    Maybe the “chargemaster” is used to charge the random sultans and Canadian provincial prime ministers that occasionally check into Mass General or Longwood to get some care. But not even the uninsured (making up to as much as 400% of the federal poverty level; and unlike MassHealth, there are no asset limits) pay these prices. These are for hospital charges only and uninsured hospital charges are picked up by the Health Safety Net (formerly called the free care pool)

    I assume the “chargemaster” is some kind of cost-accounting calculation that factors in rapid depreciation of new construction (or maybe it writes off construction and the cost of equipment in the year built/purchased, which would drive up costs to these levels in a way no business would ever account for its money), all kinds of overhead and hospital-based community activities, etc., etc. Since no one actually pays the charges, I can’t see that it would have any other purpose but I am just guessing.

  • Reasonable?

    This data is “flash bang”= exciting but not so impactful.
    These are not real prices.

    I’ve read the charge master prices are mostly used for the uninsured (2 percent of the MA population right?).

    These price might also be used for well-heeled international visitors/health tourists.

    The prices the public really wants to know are the hospital charges to Medicare/Medicaid and private insures.