Study: Costs for medical procedures vary immensely from one hospital to the next

Where you receive medical care may have huge implications for the total you see on the bill, a new study found.

The average cost of a C-section in Knoxville, Tennessee, is $4,556, which is the lowest median cost for any metropolitan area in the country. In Chicago, Illinois, the exact same C-section averages a price tag more than twice that, at $9,810. 

C-sections in the San Francisco Bay area, averaging the highest cost in the country, will run new parents around $20,721. 

A common blood test in Beaumont, Texas costs about $443, which is nearly 25 times more expensive than it would be if a patient received the same service in Toledo, Ohio, where the cost averages a mere $18. 

Office visits for new patients average about $92 in the Miami region. If the same person set up a new patient visit with a doctor in Anchorage, Alaska, however, they could expect the service to cost about $250.    

The phenomenon of vastly different pricing for the exact same medical procedures at different hospitals is widespread, according to the study published by the Health Care Cost Institute.

The HCCI analyzed the costs that hospitals negotiate with health insurance companies for specific services across 112 metro areas in the U.S.

The HCCI then created a price index that compared the costs of common services across three categories: inpatient admissions, outpatient visits and professional service. Researchers studied and indexed the cost data for two types of childbirth admissions: C-section and vaginal delivery, two types of common lab tests: a comprehensive metabolic panel and a screening mammogram, and two types of office visits: established patient visits and new patient visits. 

Major discrepancies were noted not only from one metro area to the next, but within metro areas as well. 

When considering service prices within metro areas, HCCI excluded the bottom and top 10 percent of prices to limit the outlier effect. Even so, some of the largest recorded price discrepancies showed a hospital in one part of the metro charging as much as 39 times more than other hospitals in the area. 

The El Paso area showed the most variance for blood test prices of any metro in the country. The difference between the lowest price (10th percentile) and highest (90th percentile) is $808, meaning some El Pasoans could be paying 563 percent more for the exact same blood test.

Second only to the San Francisco Bay area, the Boston metro area has one of the greatest price ranges for vaginal delivery costs in the country, with an $11,272 difference between the 10th percentile price and the 90th percentile price. 

The HCCI also compared its cost data to an overall price index, which determined that there is a correlation in many metros between the overall cost of living and the cost of medical services.

This story was reported from Los Angeles.