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The old adage “If you have to ask the cost, you can’t afford it” is perhaps nowhere more true than in the American healthcare system.

Price Check

This chart (included as part of a terrific article about medical tourism by Kevin Featherly in the most recent issue of Delta’s Sky magazine) compares the cost of medical procedures across the world. Notice that costs in the United States are often tens of thousands of dollars more than in other parts of the world:


These cost discrepancies are part of the reason international medical tourism has skyrocketed in recent years.

What’s less well known is that procedure costs can differ dramatically between hospitals within the U.S. — and, in fact, between hospitals in the same city. This has sparked an increase in domestic medical travel. As Featherly writes, some major U.S. employers (including Walmart) have even begun to include coverage for medical travel in their health insurance packages for employees.

This is encouraging news — though there is still one small wrench in the works. Many hospitals are not required to tell you how much procedures cost.

Massachusetts has set out to change this. A new state law mandates that hospitals and doctors tell patients how much procedures cost (if patient’s ask, that is). Things are off to a rocky start — listen to this NPR story that follows a soon-to-be-first-time mom trying to ascertain the cost of vaginal childbirth at several different Massachusetts hospitals — but it will be interesting to see what happens as they work out the kinks.

More transparency around health care costs seems like a positive step. Also, a logical one: when you think about it, what other product or procedure would you ever buy without knowing the cost first?

Thoughts to share?

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