Despite recent policy efforts to increase price transparency, obtaining estimated prices for surgery remains difficult for most patients and families.
Assess availability and variability of cost and self-pay discounts for pediatric anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) reconstruction in the United States.
This was a prospective study using scripted telephone calls to obtain price estimates and self-pay discounts for pediatric ACL reconstruction. From July to August 2020, investigators called 102 hospitals, 51 “top-ranked” pediatric orthopaedic hospitals and 51 “non-top ranked” hospitals randomly selected, to impersonate the parent of an uninsured child with a torn ACL. Hospital, surgeon, and anesthesia price estimates, availability of a self-pay discount, and number of calls and days required to obtain price estimates were recorded for each hospital. Hospitals were compared on the basis of ranking, teaching status, and region.
Only 31/102 (30.3%) hospitals provided a complete price estimate. Overall, 52.9% of top-ranked hospitals were unable to provide any price information versus 31.4% of non-top-ranked hospitals (P=0.027). There was a 6.1-fold difference between the lowest and highest complete price estimates (mean estimate $29,590, SD $14,975). The mean complete price estimate for top-ranked hospitals was higher than for non-top-ranked hospitals ($34,901 vs. $25,207; P=0.07). The mean complete price estimate varied significantly across US region (P=0.014), with the greatest mean complete price in the Northeast ($41,812). Altogether, 38.2% hospitals specified a self-pay discount, but only a fraction disclosed exact dollar or percentage discounts. The mean self-pay discount from top-ranked hospitals was larger than that of non-top-ranked hospitals ($18,305 vs. $9902; P=0.011). An average of 3.1 calls (range 1.0 to 12.0) over 5 days (range 1 to 23) were needed to obtain price estimates.
Price estimates for pediatric sports medicine procedures can be challenging to obtain, even for the educated consumer. Top-ranked hospitals and hospitals in the Northeast region may charge more than their counterparts. In all areas, self-pay discounts can be substantial if they can be identified but they potentially create an information disadvantage for unaware patients needing to pay out-of-pocket.
Economic; Level of Evidence II
What is Known about the Subject:
Previous studies have highlighted the importance of value-based health care decisions and deficits of price transparency in various fields including pediatric and orthopaedics procedures.
What this Study Adds to Existing Knowledge:
This study is the first to examine availability and variability of health care cost in pediatric sports medicine and the first to assess availability and magnitude of self-pay discounts, setting expectations for the uninsured patient incurring large out-of-pocket expenses.