How much does a Tylenol cost? In California, that depends on what hospital you're in.
At some California hospitals, a tablet of Tylenol, or its generic version, acetaminophen, is billed at $5 or $5.50. Others charge $7, or even $9, for a single pill. One Los Angeles hospital charges just 12 cents a tablet, while at a few facilities it's free. The retail price of brand-name Tylenol is about eight or nine cents each. The generic goes for a nickel or less.
A new law in California mandates that hospitals there do what few hospitals in America will: open up their "chargemasters," books that show thousands of list prices for medical goods and services. An examination of chargemasters at several hospitals shows that pricing strategies fluctuate wildly -- on everything from brain scans to painkillers to leeches. Depending on a hospital's pricing method, the charge for the same commodity or service, such as a blood test, can vary by as much as 17-fold from one institution to another.
Virtually every business marks up the wholesale cost of supplies and services. But in the hospital business, pricing is an increasingly sensitive and controversial issue. List prices are usually charged only to uninsured patients. Health plans negotiate big discounts and the government essentially dictates what it will pay.
Meanwhile health-care costs are surging and are likely to go up by 8% or 9% per year over the next five years, according to Glenn Melnick, a professor of healthcare finance at the University of Southern California. Economic growth is expected to be about 3% per year, he says, prompting a national debate over how to pay for all this.
Dozens of lawsuits have been filed in recent months by lawyers alleging that nonprofit hospitals are price-gouging the poor and uninsured. Hospitals long seen as charitable organizations are being forced to defend themselves against allegations they have preyed on patients for debts that were inflated.
For years, details on hospital charges were kept secret. Hospitals deemed their prices proprietary, to be kept off limits from institutional rivals, insurers and even consumers. Patients often had no idea what costs they were racking up until they got their bill.
California's law, which went into effect earlier this year, requires hospitals to make their chargemasters available to the public. These lists show how much each hospital charges for everything from drugs and patient rooms to bandages, X-rays and CT scans.
Source: Dow Jones - full article here