Need surgery? Good luck getting hospital cost info

A study shows a wide range of costs for hip replacement surgery and confusion among some hospitals.

In this June 19, 2012 photo, Dr. Bruce Stowell examines patient Robert Busch at his office in Grants Pass, Ore. Stowell is among many doctors in rural areas who have capped the numbers of Medicare patients they take due to low reimbursement levels. A nationwide shortage of primary care physicians willing to set up practice in rural areas is making the problem worse. (AP Photo/Jeff Barnard)

CHICAGO (AP) -- A study shows a wide range of costs for hip replacement surgery and confusion among some hospitals about the price of the procedure.

Researchers contacted 122 hospitals in every state and asked what a routine replacement surgery on a healthy patient without insurance would cost. The price tags ranged from as little as $11,000 to nearly $126,000. Callers pretended they were getting the quote for a grandmother who was uninsured but could afford to pay.

The researchers were able to obtain a complete price estimate including physician fees from close to half the hospitals. But in most cases, that took contacting the hospital and doctor separately. About 15 percent of hospitals did not provide any price estimate, even after a researcher called back as many as five times.

The study, published online today in JAMA Internal Medicine, found that many hospitals "are completely unprepared" for costs questions. One of the authors of the report says most hospitals aren't intentionally hiding costs; they're just not used to patients asking.

U.S. insurance companies typically negotiate to pay less than the billing price. Insured patients' health plans determine what they pay, while uninsured patients may end up paying the full amount.

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