Guy goes to Belgium for a hip replacement. Why? It cost $13,660 versus at least $78,000, not counting surgeon’s fee, in U.S., and that price AFTER a sweetheart deal on the part. Parts is parts, but despite little change in design, big volume and competition among makers, the price hasn’t declined.
The American health care market is plagued by such “sticky pricing,” in which prices of products remain high or even increase over time instead of dropping. The list price of a total hip implant increased nearly 300 percent from 1998 to 2011, according to Orthopedic Network News, a newsletter about the industry. That is a result, economists say, of how American medicine generally sets charges: without government regulation or genuine marketplace competition.
“Manufacturers will tell you it’s R&D and liability that makes implants so expensive and that they have the only one like it,” said Dr. Rory Wright, an orthopedist at the Orthopedic Hospital of Wisconsin, a top specialty clinic. “They price this way because they can.”