No rhyme or reason to women’s health care costs

The prices for common women’s health care procedures in 2015 varied “wildly” across the country, sometimes even within the same city. A study performed by Castlight Health, Inc. (Castlight) set out to determine how much employers and employees paid for common women’s health care procedures in 30 of the most populous cities in the U.S. and found that prices for the procedures varied greatly depending on the location of the service. Additionally, the analysis found that the price disparities were not limited to women’s health care procedures, and that prices of tests such as lipid panels, MRIs, and CT scans also varied greatly throughout the country.

Common Procedures

In its second annual U.S. Costliest Cities Analysis, Castlight reviewed the prices of four common women’s health procedures: gynecological exams, mammograms, O/B GYN follow-up visits, and HPV tests. Castlight’s previous analysis examined common health care procedures such as primary care check-ups and blood work, but the study was expanded in 2015 to include health care procedures that were common for women.

Mammograms

The study found that prices for mammograms varied greatly nationwide, ranging from $43 to $1,898. Additionally, even women living in the same metropolitan areas were charged vastly different amounts for the preventative test. The largest disparity was seen in Dallas, where a woman could pay from $50 to $1045 for a mammogram. In New York, which had some of the most expensive mammograms in the country, similar price disparities were found, with the price of a mammogram ranging from $130 to $1,808. Price differences were also seen in other large metropolitan areas. For example, in Los Angeles, the price of a mammogram ranged from $86 to $954, while in San Francisco it ranged from $129 to $860.

OB/GYN Visits

The study made similar findings relating to OB/GYN follow-up visits. Minneapolis and Seattle were found to be most expensive for such visits, with Phoenix and Las Vegas being the least expensive.

HPV Tests/Preventative Exams.

HPV test prices also varied greatly throughout the country and within cities. The San Francisco Bay area was the most expensive for preventative exams and HPV tests, which were six times as expensive than the costs of such services in Charlotte, North Carolina. In Philadelphia, the prices for tests ranged from $32 to $626, and in Fresno, California, the price of the tests ran from $32 to $400.

Kristin Torres Mowat, Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Data Operations at Castlight Health said, “These numbers are eye-opening. It’s especially disturbing that women and their employers could be needlessly overpaying for mammograms and other critical health services. Despite mandated insurance coverage for certain services, evidence shows that women forgo basic preventative care due to cost considerations and that delaying preventative care can harm patient health and increase future medical spending.” Torres Mowat added, “Overall, the data demonstrate that medical price variances continue to reflect larger systemic problems in the U.S. health care system.”

Other Health Services

The study also found varying prices for other general health care services, such as MRIs, CT scans, and lipid test panels. For instance, in New York City, the costs of a lipid panel or cholesterol test, ranged from $14 to $1,070, which was the highest national range among all of the procedures examined. Additionally, the average price of the cholesterol test increased over the past year in 29 of the 30 cities in the study, including by a staggering 282 percent in San Francisco, 214 percent in Sacramento, and 198 percent in Pittsburgh. The analysis also found that health care spending outpaced inflation over the past year, but offered no explanation for the increases in prices.

Giovanni Colella, M.D., Chief Executive of Castlight said, “This study has data that is vital to understanding how broken the U.S. health care system really is, and we sincerely hope that employers and consumers take note.”