How Expensive Is U.S. Health Care?

Healthcare in the United States is really expensive, and one of the reasons is that managing healthcare bills is really, really expensive.

How expensive? New research mentioned in the Los Angeles Times sheds some light:

Researchers from Duke University and Harvard Business School figured this out by reconstructing the entire life cycle of a medical bill — from the time a patient makes an appointment until the time the health system pockets the money for the services rendered. They applied their analysis to five types of “patient encounters,” as they put it.

Members of the research team conducted 27 interviews with people involved at various points in the billing process to understand every single step along the way. They also surveyed 34 doctors to understand their billing-related activities, such as submitting prior authorization requests to health insurance companies.

Here are the results of the study:

  • It cost $20.49 to get paid for a typical primary-care visit, and took 13 minutes of processing time.
  • It cost $61.54 to get paid for a typical trip to the emergency room, and took 32 minutes of processing time.
  • It cost $124.26 to get paid for a typical hospital stay, and took 73 minutes of processing time.
  • It cost $170.40 to get paid for a typical outpatient surgical procedure, and took 75 minutes of processing time.
  • It cost $215.10 to get paid for a hospitalization that required surgery, and took 100 minutes of processing time.

If those numbers aren’t enough to make you sick, consider this: For most healthcare providers, the true costs of billing are probably higher — perhaps much higher.

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