In 2002, the Tucson Weekly began handing out its annual Phoney Awards. These prestigious prizes recognized excellent, as well as terrible, response times to citizens' questions posed to various elected and other local officials.
Three years ago, Phoney contestants received telephone calls ("The Envelope, Please," March 7, 2002). In 2003, they got e-mail messages ("And the Winner Is ...," April 10, 2003), and last year's awards were based on letters ("The Award Goes To ...," April 1, 2004).
Seeking a change of pace, the 2005 search committee responsible for the awards contacted public information officers for several Tucson hospitals. Each spokesperson was asked to provide their hospital's charges for a range of procedures and services received by both regular as well as uninsured patients.
From other sources, the Weekly also obtained quoted rates for uninsured patients along with the standard amounts the hospitals tell the State of Arizona they are charging. Based on the information received, this year's winners and losers are:
Open and Honest
Representatives from four hospitals responded quickly and thoroughly to the Weekly inquiry:
· University Physicians Healthcare Hospital at Kino replied within 24 hours.
· Tucson Medical Center provided detailed data for both itself and its affiliate, El Dorado Hospital.
· University Medical Center, as requested, gave specific answers for both insured as well as uninsured patients.
· The award goes to: Everybody. When community institutions such as hospitals make important information easily available to the public, we all win.
Secretive and Stonewalling
The two hospital organizations refused to provide the requested data:
· Northwest Medical Center flatly declined to participate.
· Carondelet Health Network, for St. Mary's and St. Joseph's hospitals, dragged their feet, gave excuses and finally did not respond.
The winner is: Nobody. Withholding hospital costs from the public is in nobody's interest and is certainly not an April Fool's joke.
Hospital charges for every procedure can be dramatically different depending on exactly what services are included with the bill. Keeping that in mind, for a single view chest X-ray, the cost comparisons provided by the hospitals responding to the Weekly survey were:
· El Dorado: $295
· Kino: $109
· TMC: $235
· UMC: $185
Every hospital is required to provide the state of Arizona with its "charge master" prices for select procedures and services. For a CT head scan without contrast, the cost comparisons are:
· El Dorado: $1,124
· Kino: $942
· Northwest at Oro Valley: $435
· St. Mary's/St. Joseph's: $781
· TMC: $1,084
· UMC: $1,100
The Price the Poor Pay
With the skyrocketing number of people without medical insurance, costs quoted to a caller in this situation (who, as a member of the public, did not identify herself as being from the Weekly) seeking information on the price of a metabolic panel were:
· El Dorado: $129
· Kino: Did not respond
· Northwest at Oro Valley: $130
· St. Mary's/St. Joseph's: $38
· TMC: $156
· UMC: $15
It should be noted that TMC and El Dorado have a sliding-fee scale based on the income of the individual, which can reduce costs by as much as 90 percent.
Room With a View
The charges which are included with a hospital room can vary greatly, but the prices quoted by administrators for one day's stay in a basic private room were:
· Kino: $990
· El Dorado: $896
· TMC: $916 (semi-private)
· UMC: $1,470
According to figures for all local hospitals, as provided to the state, the cost for an EEG and an EKG are:
· El Dorado: $356/$180
· Kino: $387/$91
· Northwest at Oro Valley: $1,112/$261
· St. Mary's/St. Joseph's: $829/$175
· TMC: $482/$113
· UMC: $425/$80
What's It Going to Be?
For an ultra sound of the abdomen, hospital charges are:
· El Dorado: $669
· Kino: $330
· Northwest at Oro Valley: $480
· St. Mary's/St. Joseph's: $385
· TMC: $427
· UMC: $600
While most people may think only of quality, not cost, when seeking hospital care, with the growing medical insurance crisis in this country, that situation may soon change. As these price comparisons show, there are substantial price differences between Tucson's hospitals.