In a desperate attempt to raise awareness of outrageously high, stunningly variable hospital bills, the state of Maryland has created a passive-aggressive line of T-shirts.
The black T-shirts blast the average prices for procedures in bold, white lettering, such as “Hip Replacement $30,799” and “Vaginal Delivery $11,590.”
The campaign, WeartheCost.org, is designed to start conversations, according to the Maryland Health Care Commission, which is behind the shirts.
Once people are talking, the commission is hopeful that consumers will hop onto the campaign’s website next, where they will learn that the staggering prices quoted on the shirts are just based on averages. The actual bills from hospitals around the state are highly variable. This is partly due to the fact that some hospitals simply charge more for the same things. But there’s also the issue that some hospitals tend to make more mistakes than others—for which they are then required to do more procedures, driving costs up further. These are called “potentially avoidable complications.”
On the campaign’s website, consumers can compare the average bills and see how much of each hospital’s costs tend to be attributed to those “potentially avoidable complications.”
For instance, one T-shirt trumpets that the average bill for a hysterectomy in the state is $16,138, adjusted for case severity. But if you go to the website, you learn that the costs tend to range from between $12,798 and $20,635, due to pricing differences and pricy mistakes. Johns Hopkins Hospital, for instance, has the highest typical bill ($20,635) and averages more than $2,000 in costs from potentially avoidable complications. Another hospital in the state, Saint Agnes Hospital, charges an average of $18,433 for the same procedure, but that includes an average of nearly $5,500 for potentially avoidable complications.
Of course, the bills listed are the insurance rates charged, so they don’t necessarily reflect how much patients pay out of pocket. Still, the bills that insurance providers foot all influence healthcare costs overall, including premiums.
The commission is hopeful that patients will become more aware of pricing variability amongst available hospitals, shop around, and generally be savvier consumers. This can be tricky, as some hospital visits aren’t planned, of course. For that reason, the commission focused on common procedures that are often planned in advance, such as knee replacement surgeries.
“The hope is that, over time, consumers will come to expect that prices are available… and use them regularly in making decisions about where to get care,” Sarah Litton, a consultant who worked with the commission, told Kaiser Health News.