A knee replacement at Medstar Harbor Hospital will cost a patient $37,225 on average, while the same procedure at University of Maryland Shore Medical System at Easton costs $22,687.
Patients will pay $20,010 on average for a hysterectomy at Johns Hopkins Hospital but only $11,691 to have it done at St. Joseph.
A new website — wearthecost.org — being launched Thursday by the Maryland Health Care Commission will help consumers compare these types of costs among hospitals and bring more transparency to hospital pricing practices.
While patients can request all or some of this data from other agencies and the hospitals themselves, the commission said the website compiles the information all in one place and in an easy-to-navigate, consumer-friendly way. The commission hopes the website will arm users with more information to help them make more informed decisions when choosing a hospital.
"We have felt for a long time that what we needed to do is get some clarity in this area of what things cost," said Commission Chairman Dr. Robert E. Moffit.
But hospital officials, many of whom worked with the commission, said the new website is too limited in scope.
"We fully support any efforts aimed at providing transparent information to help patients make informed decisions," Johns Hopkins Hospital spokeswoman Kim Hoppe said in a statement. "We believe that the current site does not yet achieve that goal. We will continue to work with [the commission] to better understand the data and methodologies they employed, as well as advocate for the inclusion of additional information that would assist patients in making the right choice for health care services."
The analysis incorporates data from 2014 and 2015 and includes comparisons of four procedures — hysterectomy, vaginal delivery, hip replacement and knee replacement — and will expand to include others over time.
The prices include the cost of the surgery as well as related expenses, such as doctor visits and physical therapy included in treatment from beginning to end. The data also includes information about how medical complications can impact the price of care. An infection can raise the costs, for instance.
The data is taken from claims from private insurance plans, but not Medicare, Medicaid or those who pay out of pocket. The website will be updated to include the state's Medicare patients next year.
It is not unusual for hospital rates to vary based on the number of uninsured patients a hospital treats or the complexity of the cases they have. Academic hospitals may have higher costs associated with teaching and research. Prices also differ because some hospitals operate more efficiently than others.
Because of Maryland's special rate-setting system, insurance companies pay the same price for procedures within the same hospital, but the rates differ across hospitals.
Johns Hopkins Hospital charges more for hysterectomies and vaginal births than any other state hospital included in the analysis, according to the health care commission data. Hospitals had to have a certain number of procedures that could be analyzed from beginning to end of treatment to be included in the analysis.
"Our obstetrics and gynecology team is treating the most complex cases in the region, caring for women who often are transferred from other hospitals to Johns Hopkins for our team's specialized care," Hoppe said in the statement about the higher pricing.
Hospitals owned by MedStar Health also consistently ranked as some of the most expensive for the four procedures. For instance, MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital and MedStar Union Memorial Hospital were the first and fourth most expensive for hip replacements. MedStar Harbor and its Good Samaritan hospital were the first and second most expensive hospitals for knee replacements.
MedStar officials in a statement called the state's cost comparisons "potentially confusing" because it includes things such as doctor office visits that may not occur in a hospital. They also said that some of the data is no longer relevant. MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital no longer does hip and knee replacement surgeries.
"Consumers may contact us directly for the most recent hospital average charge for a procedure they are contemplating," Medstar said in a statement. "They may also find that their insurance carrier is a good source of additional information on the total cost of care for these types of services. As always, we encourage patients to discuss their needs and questions with their provider when making healthcare decisions."
Sinai Hospital, owned by LifeBridge Health, had the second highest costs for a hip replacement and hysterectomy.
"There are many reasons behind hospital price variation, particularly the complexity of cases and related costs," Sharon Boston, director of public relations for LifeBridge Health, said in a statement. "We have been working for many years with our state agencies, fellow hospitals and consumers to share information on quality and costs, so patients can make informed decisions about their health care. We have a number of successful initiatives underway to improve quality and decrease overall costs that would not yet be reflected in this limited snapshot of older data."
The state's hospitals say they support more pricing transparency, despite what they see as weaknesses with the website.
"We will continue working with them to include information that is more meaningful for consumers," said Jim Reiter, a spokesman for the Maryland Hospital Association.
Reiter said he doesn't expect the data to result in hospitals losing patients. Most patients choose their hospital because of a recommendation from their doctor or because it is close to where they live, he said.
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Jonathan P. Weiner, a professor of health policy & management at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health, is also skeptical about how much the access to prices will influence patient choice. Most people who have insurance don't worry about the cost as long as their insurance covers it, he said. But he said the website was comprehensive and informative at a time when hospitals are under pressure to reduce costs.
"This is providing valuable information to the consumer about the health system and is part of transparency," Weiner said.
Dr. Marilyn Moon, former chairwoman of the commission who helped create the website, said it was "very impressive to say how much variation there was."
Just because a hospital is more expensive doesn't mean the care is better, she said.
"The intent is to get as much information as we can out there," Moon said. "There are some hospitals that do better than others."