Emergency rooms marking up costs, hurting uninsured and minority patients the most, Hopkins study finds

Emergency rooms are marking up prices by an average of 340 percent, with minorities and uninsured patients getting the biggest bills, according to new research by the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

Researchers analyzed billing records of more than 12,000 emergency room doctors from nearly 300 U.S. hospitals for the year in 2013. They compared what patients with private insurance or no insurance were charged for services with what Medicare pays.

The researchers found that hospitals charged anywhere from 1.0 to 12.6 percent, or $100 to $12,600, more than what Medicare paid for services.

For-profit hospitals in the Southeastern and Midwestern United States that tend to serve higher populations of uninsured, African-American and Hispanic patients were more likely to have the largest markups, the report found. The findings were published Tuesday in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

"There are massive disparities in service costs across emergency rooms and that price gouging is the worst for the most vulnerable populations," Dr. Martin Makary, a professor of surgery at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the study's senior researcher, said in a statement. "This study adds to the growing pile of evidence that to address the huge disparities in health care, health care pricing needs to be fairer and more transparent."

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