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Survey: U.S. medical costs top other developed nations'

March 26, 2013|By Chad Terhune
  • U.S. hospital and physician fees top the average costs in many other countries by a substantial margin, according to a report issued Tuesday.
U.S. hospital and physician fees top the average costs in many other countries… (Francine Orr/Los Angeles…)

An average day in a U.S. hospital cost $4,287 last year. It was less than $1,000 in New Zealand, France, South Africa and Spain.

That's one of several cost comparisons reported Tuesday in an annual report by the International Federation of Health Plans, an industry trade group. The London organization surveyed its member companies in 12 different countries to gauge the variation in medical prices.

"With the cost and availability of healthcare being an important topic around the world, it's essential that we not only examine the disparities that exist, but also why and how certain gaps do exist," said Tom Sackville, the group's chief executive.

The latest report added new comparisons on common prescription drugs as well as on knee replacement surgery and colonoscopies.

Lipitor, a top-selling drug to fight high cholesterol, goes for $124 on average in the U.S., according to the report. Chile was less than half that at $60, France was $48 and South Africans got it for $11.

U.S. led the way on a colonoscopy too, at $1,185 on average compared to $893 in the United Kingdom and $655 in Switzerland.

Quiz: How much do you know about healthcare?

The news wasn't much better for expecting parents in the U.S. The total cost of a cesarean-section birth was $15,041 in the U.S. or roughly three times as much as the price in the Netherlands, United Kingdom or New Zealand.

In one of the few bright spots for U.S. medicine, the average physician fee of $922 for cataract surgery was cheaper than both Australia and Chile.

Even within the U.S., experts note that prices vary considerably for the same medical procedure or test with little or no difference in quality. This matters more than ever for many consumers who face rising deductibles and higher out-of-pocket expenses on their insurance plan.

As a result, patient advocates say it pays to ask for an upfront estimate or check for price information online from your health plan or other consumer websites.

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