Sticker prices to treat such common conditions as chest pain and pneumonia climbed at hospitals across the country and around Tampa Bay in 2012, the second year for which the government has released the data.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released the average prices charged to Medicare as part of an effort to make the confusing world of health care finance more transparent. But charges — even among hospitals in the same community — vary in ways that defy logic.
Locally, large hikes from 2011 to 2012 included Bayfront Health St. Petersburg’s 26 percent increase for chest pain. Tampa General Hospital slashed its average chest pain charge by nearly 20 percent — yet it was still the highest in the area.
Paul Van de Water, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said price hikes may reflect declines in admissions or increases in their costs to care for the sickest patients.
But it’s harder to explain, for instance, why Brooksville’s Oak Hill Hospital charged nearly $20,000 more than St. Anthony’s in St. Petersburg to treat a kidney and urinary tract infection.
Hospitals insist hardly anyone really pays these charges. Still, price tags matter, especially to uninsured patients who don’t qualify for charity care. Hospitals can use their charges when negotiating with private insurers. And as consumers with high-deductible plans pay for an increasing share of their care, they can learn from the data how hospitals vary in their prices, said Cristina L. Boccuti, a senior associate with Kaiser Family Foundation.
CORRECTION: Morton Plant Hospital’s average charge to Medicare to treat a patient with heart failure increased from $19,221 in 2011 to $20,480 in 2012, or 6.6 percent. Earlier versions of this story appearing in print and online provided incorrect figures.