Action 9: Costs of medical procedures vary institution to institution

by: Jason Stoogenke Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It can be tough finding out how much a medical procedure costs before having it done.

Eyewitness News reported on major efforts to change that within last six months including a new federal database and new North Carolina law forcing hospitals to list prices for 100 of the most common medical services.

Action 9 investigator Jason Stoogenke shopped around and found costs vary a lot even within the same system.

Basically, there are two main games in town: Carolinas Healthcare System and Novant Health.

Action 9 spent weeks comparing procedures many people have had or need.

Former State Trooper Carolyn Logan hurt her knee responding to a call. She went under the knife twice and thinks she'll need a full knee replacement at some point.

"The cost would be on me to have that done. A lot of rehab goes along with that," Logan said.

Stoogenke looked at 10 of the most common procedures: Pregnancy ultrasound, kidney stone removal, cardio stress test, CT scan, colonoscopy, mammogram, chest X-ray, EKG, cataract surgery and arthroscopic knee surgery.

At least one major national publication recommends the website New Choice Health, a one-stop shop for comparing dollar figures.

"Very hard. It really is difficult. There was a lot of work that went into our product. It's not an easy thing to do," said Brad Nihls, spokesman for New Choice health.

Nihls said New Choice gathers prices from Medicare claims, commercial claims and 2,000 hospitals directly.

Here's what New Choice came up with:
CHS's pregnancy ultrasounds, at $800, are almost twice Novant's at $440.

CMC-Main charges $23,800 to remove a kidney stone. Novant Health Charlotte Orthopedic less than half that at $11,000.

While a chest X-ray at Novant Health Presbyterian costs $2,100, it costs $1,600 at CMC-Main.

Prices even vary within each system. A mammogram in Novant Matthews is $600. Most other Novant sites charge $250.

A cardio stress test at CMC Northeast is $5,500, which is more than twice one at nearby CMC-University at $2,475.

It's the opposite for a colonoscopy. At the University location it's $5,000, but at Northeast, it's $2,475.

"It's a pretty wild industry," Nihls said.

Rep. Robert Pittenger, R-NC 9, said House Republicans are proposing a bill to make it easier for patients to get straight answers about prices.

"We have to have transparency," Pittenger said. "When people understand better the cost of health care, that frankly is going to help drive the cost of health care down."

What hospitals charge can be quite different from what you pay.

Novant said patients' situations are so different, "We work with people individually to provide them our best estimate."

CHS said "comparing hospitals solely on price can be misleading. Often, these comparisons don't take into account the differences between health care systems, the health coverage held by the patient and the patient's own medical condition."

"It doesn't matter what you pay for it. If the doctor doesn't know what they're doing or doesn't do a really good job. the body's just messed up," Logan said.

Both hospital systems said since everyone's situation is so different, contact them before you have a procedure and they'll tell you exactly what you'll pay out of pocket.

To look at a basic overview of what certain procedures cost, click here.

To check out the New Choice Health website, click here.

To compare the quality of care, click here.