St. Bernards: A bargain

  • St. Bernards: A bargain

How is it possible that a major and small bowel procedure at National Park Medical Center in Hot Springs costs on average $333,470, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, but only $19,740 at St. Bernards Medical Center in Jonesboro?

Or that infectious and parasitic diseases with OR procedures are billed at $257,369 at National Park and $44,446 at St. Bernards?

Why is one of the most common procedures in Arkansas, a cardiac procedure to insert a drug-eluting stent, cost $108,524 at Northwest Hospitals Inc. in Springdale but only $35,803 at St. Bernards? Or that major joint replacement or reattachment of a leg, another common procedure, is $75,655 at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Jonesboro Russellville, but $10,597 at the Physician’s Specialty Hospital in Fayetteville?


Sometimes, hospitals in the same cities charge different rates for the same procedure: Treatment of a stroke, either ischemic or hemorrraghic, without major complications is $17,707 at the Arkansas Heart Hospital, $16,732 at Baptist Health Medical Center in Little Rock, $16,432 at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center and $10,733 at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.

The federal CMS data was released for this first time Wednesday, thanks to an Obama administration directive for a more accountable health care system. The huge database shows how 3,337 American hospitals in 306 cities charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures billed to Medicare. It includes 163,065 charges.

The Huffington Post, writing about the database yesterday, noted that people without insurance pay the most for their healthcare.

People without health insurance pay vastly higher costs for care when less expensive options are often available nearby. Virtually everyone who seeks health care winds up paying inflated prices in one form or another as these stark disparities in price sow inefficiencies throughout the market.

The database includes charges on the 100 procedures in 39 Arkansas hospitals, if I counted right. The disparity between National Park Hospital in Hot Springs and St. Bernards in Jonesboro is striking. Both are non-profit institutions; National Park is run by Capella Health care and St Bernards by the Benedictine Sisters. Financial vice president Harry Hutchison at St. Bernards, who has seen the database, said it was a “very interesting question” why his hospital charges so much less than National Park and other hospitals, but attributed it to lean management and the hospital’s goal of being a “good value” to its patients. We’ve got a call in to National Park as well.

UPDATE: Mandy Golleher of National Park responded this morning to a question on disparity with this email:

UPDATE 2: Golleher sent a second e-mail, which is posted after the first.