Okla. Surgical Center Reveals Prices to Patients


Navigating online, patients can figure out pricing for surgeries including rotator cuff, hernia and ligament repair surgery. Prices listed include facility fee, surgeon's fee and anesthesiologists' fee in addition to the initial consultation and anything involved in an uncomplicated follow-up.

There is some fine print about additional costs. Overnight stays, for instance, certain diagnostic tests and implants are not covered in the price.

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Co-founder Keith Smith said that by putting their prices online they've attracted a variety of patients who never would have come to Oklahoma for care. Patients have flown in from across the country and abroad.

Today the center has approximately 40 staff members and 50 doctors who perform more than 7,000 surgeries annually.

"Being upfront with our pricing, I haven't felt like anyone has tried to compete with me," said Smith. "But I'm ready for that and I'm ready for some healthy competition."

Experts say that if other centers decide to be transparent on pricing, it could have a wide-ranging effect. "The prices [for medical care] make absolutely no sense out there," said Gerard Anderson, director of Johns Hopkins Center for Hospital Finance and Management. "If one hospital is going to open the veil of pricing, then everybody else is going to have to do the same thing. But so far they've all been unwilling to open the veil."

Smith said he has received multiple emails from people who say they successfully argued for a lower-priced procedure with their local health provider after printing out prices from the Surgery Center of Oklahoma's website.

Fixing Healthcare the Indian Way

Although the Surgery Center of Oklahoma is a relatively small medical center, the push to have more transparent medical pricing has reached a national level.

In May the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released data for the 100 most common in-patient and outpatient procedures covered by Medicare. The data revealed an incredible range of prices to treat the same ailment, sometimes even in the same city. The cost to treat heart failure ranged from a low of $21,000 to a high of $46,000 in Denver.

"Currently, consumers don't know what a hospital is charging them or their insurance company for a given procedure, like a knee replacement, or how much of a price difference there is at different hospitals, even within the same city," Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement. "This data and new data centers will help fill that gap."

Experts, however, caution that the information can be misleading for patients, since the hospital's original charge or chargemaster price is almost never paid in full by an insurance company.

However, those who are uninsured and lack an insurance company's barging power, are often charged the full amount.

A number of states have laws about health care transparency; New Hampshire has an online database that estimates healthcare costs for different procedures at certain hospitals in the state.

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