Shining a light on murky hospital markups

By: DAVID LAZARUS

Ridiculous, seemingly arbitrary price markups are a defining characteristic of the $4-trillion U.S. healthcare system — and a key reason Americans pay more for treatment than anyone else in the world.


But to see price hikes of as much as 675% being imposed in real time, automatically, by a hospital’s computer system still takes your breath away.


I got to view this for myself after a former operating-room nurse at Scripps Memorial Hospital in Encinitas shared with me screenshots of the facility’s electronic health record system.


The nurse asked that I not use her name because she’s now working at a different Southern California medical facility and worries that her job could be endangered. Her screenshots, taken earlier this year, speak for themselves.


What they show are price hikes ranging from 575% to 675% being automatically generated by the hospital’s software.


The eye-popping increases are so routine, apparently, the software even displays the formula it uses to convert reasonable medical costs to billed amounts that are much, much higher.


For example, one screenshot is for sutures — that is, medical thread, a.k.a. stitches. Scripps’ system put the basic “cost per unit” at $19.30.


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