$183,000 appendectomy: Grasping true cost of health care is an elusive task, analyst says

Tackling the “affordable” part of the Affordable Care Act will require dealing with wildly different costs for the same procedures and other measures aimed at greater transparency, a Colorado policy analyst said.

Bob Semro, a policy analyst at the nonprofit, non-partisan Bell Policy Center, noted a 2012 study of “vanilla appendectomies,” or procedures on otherwise healthy individuals that resulted in no complications. The study involved 19,368 patients aged 18 to 59 who remained four days under hospital care.

The least expensive appendectomy was $1,529, and it was done at a county hospital. Semro said.

“And do you know what the most expensive one was?” Semro asked in an interview before speaking to Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy organization, fall meeting at Two Rivers Convention Center. “It was $183,000.”

The median price of the procedure was $33,611, Semro said.

That illustrates the difficulty of knowing the actual costs of procedures, Semro said.

“We don’t have a clue” about how the costs of medical care are actually determined, Semro said.

The stakes, however, are high.

Spending on all health care in the United States in 2011 totaled $2.7 trillion, a figure projected to grow to $4.8 trillion in 2021, Semro said.

In the meantime, it’s estimated that $765 billion of all health care spending in 2009 was wasted, lost to unnecessary procedures, fraud, ineffective service delivery and other causes.

A year before, the nation spent $700 billion on the bank bailout, he said.

About 32 percent of the bailout money was returned, Semro said, but the misspent health care dollars are lost forever.


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“The least expensive appendectomy was $1,529, and it was done at a county hospital. Semro said.”

“And do you know what the most expensive one was?” Semro asked in an interview before speaking to Club 20, the Western Slope advocacy organization, fall meeting at Two Rivers Convention Center. “It was $183,000.”

It would be nice to know what hospitals these are. Then we would know where to go & where to steer clear of.

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