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US releases data on what hospitals charge

WASHINGTON — For the first time, the government is publicly revealing how much hospitals charge, and the differences are astounding: Some bill tens of thousands of dollars more than others for the same treatment, even within the same city.

Why does a joint replacement cost 40 times as much at one hospital as at another across the country? It’s a mystery, federal officials say.

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‘‘It doesn’t make sense,’’ Jonathan Blum, Medicare deputy administrator, said Wednesday. The higher charges do not reflect better care, he said. And the amounts are too huge to be explained by obvious differences among hospitals, such as a more expensive regional economy, older or sicker patients, or the extra costs of running a teaching hospital, he said.

The average charges for joint replacement range from about $5,300 at an Ada, Okla., hospital to $223,000 in Monterey Park, Calif., the Department of Health and Human Services said. That does not include doctors’ fees.

Blum said the Obama administration hopes that releasing the information, at the website www.cms.gov, will help lead to answers to the riddle of hospital pricing — and pressure some hospitals to lower their charges. The database also will help consumers shop around, he said.

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