The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

June 3, 2014

Hospital charges to treat chest pain jump 10 percent in a year

By Anna Edney
Bloomberg News

WASHINGTON — The charge to treat Medicare patients with chest pain at U.S. hospitals rose 10 percent to $18,568 in just a year, the biggest rise seen among the most common inpatient procedures, according to federal data.

Average charges for most hospital services, meanwhile, rose less than 5 percent from 2011 to 2012, according to a report released Monday by the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. It is the second year CMS has released the data, gathered from more than 3,000 hospitals that take patients in Medicare, the U.S. program for the elderly and disabled.

Last year, CMS reported that hospital pricing for medical care varied widely, and that trend continued in the latest report. In California alone, for instance, the price of treating chest pain averaged $58,988 in the Sacramento area and $11,619 around Los Angeles, according to the fiscal 2012 data.

The numbers "provide a better understanding of Medicare utilization, the burden of chronic conditions among beneficiaries and the implications for our health-care system, and how this varies by where beneficiaries are located," said Bryan Sivak, chief technology officer for the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare.

Medicare released data on hospital charges for the first time last year. Medicare and private insurance companies tend not to pay the full amount of what hospitals bill. The average Medicare payment for chest pain is $2,874, according to the data. Today, the government also made available information on outpatient services and chronic conditions.

The release, required under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, came during the annual Health Datapalooza conference that brings together technology experts and government officials to discuss trends in health care.

Officials from the Food and Drug Administration are scheduled to talk at the conference Tuesday about the agency's release of adverse event data on drugs from 2004 to 2013. The information will be available in a format technology developers can use to construct health applications, the agency said Monday.

Adverse events had been accessible only through Freedom of Information requests. The agency plans to expand the available data to recalls and product labeling, the FDA said in a statement.