Charlotte places sixth for most expensive healthcare in nation

07/11/2014 5:07 PM

07/11/2014 5:13 PM

Healthcare costs in Charlotte are the sixth-most expensive in the nation, according to a new list published by Forbes Magazine.

The calculations are based on data comparing the average costs of preventive primary care visits as well as three standard procedures: CT scans of the head and brain, MRIs of the lower back, and lipid panels. Compiled by Castlight Health, a San Francisco-based company that works with employers to control healthcare costs, the numbers show vast differences in pricing both within cities and from one to the next.

The average cost of a primary care visit in Charlotte is $199, fifth-highest among cities surveyed, but it ranges among providers in the city from $60 to nearly $250. Coupled with the seventh-highest average cost of an MRI – $1,813 – the numbers pushed Charlotte above any other East Coast city.

Two California cities, Sacramento and San Francisco, topped the list for most expensive healthcare in the country, followed by Dallas. There’s little that explains why the costs range so much – prices are standardized in most other countries, but in the U.S. they’re negotiated between individual providers and insurance companies.

The new ranking underscores historically high healthcare costs in the region. A 2012 investigative report by the Observer and the News & Observer of Raleigh found that nonprofit hospitals in the area are among the most profitable in the nation. The report, called Prognosis: Profits, found that hospitals inflate prices on drugs and procedures, sometimes as much as 10 times the cost, which help them amass billions of dollars in reserves.

Two chains, Winston-Salem-based Novant Health and Charlotte-based Carolinas HealthCare System, own all eight hospitals in Mecklenburg County. Neither was available for comment Friday.

The hospitals have defended their higher costs in the past, saying marked-up prices for those with private insurance allowed them to take losses from treating Medicare and Medicaid patients or those who were uninsured. But critics say if they took less in as profit, they could afford to make healthcare cheaper for everyone.

Novant Health reported total annual revenue of $3.6 billion in 2013, while Carolinas HealthCare System was pulling in $8 billion yearly.

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