Cost of Medical Supplies: The Health Care Industry Dirty Little Secret
The next time you have to go to the hospital, take a close look at your final bill. The high cost of medical care in the US isn't news to anyone. What can be quite shocking are the ridiculously inflated price tags that are frequently attached to medical supplies and surgical tools.
No matter what you find yourself in the hospital for, your treatment will incorporate some medical supplies. A simple injury like a cut requiring stitches will require the use of gauze, bandages, adhesives and sterilizing cleaners at least. If you happen to be faced with a major surgery, the list of medical supplies and surgical tools will be pages long.
What's shocking is how much these things may cost you. It's not uncommon to be charged prices that are four or five times higher than the same item might normally cost. A two inch by two inch gauze bandage that costs two or three dollars online or in stores might run you a hospital bill of eight to ten dollars.
How can hospitals charge patients such exorbitant amounts of money for basic medical supplies and surgical tools? The simple answer is: they do it because they can. Virtually no one monitors the way medical supplies and surgical tools are purchased for hospital patient use.
The ordering of these items in hospitals is often done by non medical staff. They simply re-order as stock is depleted without any consideration at all for cost. They aren't paid to spend time looking for less expensive alternatives. Most wouldn't know how to even if they were able. They merely follow doctors' orders.
The cost of medical supplies and surgical tools is second only to actual labor costs related to staffing according to a study by the Arizona State University Business School. Often, one of the major reasons these supplies cost so much is related to relationships between their manufacturers and hospitals.
Hospitals may receive kickbacks when they contract with a particular supplier. Patients are at the mercy of the hospital when it comes to how medical supplies are purchased and used on them.
Is there anything you can do to protect yourself from the inflated cost of hospital medical supplies and surgical tools? As a consumer, you have certain rights. Specifically, you should do three things:
1) Ask for an itemized hospital bill: Some hospitals provide this automatically. Others only do so when pressed. Some are reluctant to do this at all. If you meet with resistance, be persistent. It's your right to know exactly what you are paying for.
Examine each and every charge on your bill, particularly charges for medical supplies or surgical tools. Then compare the charges to what the same item would cost you online or in a store.
If the discrepancy is significant, you have the right to dispute the charges. You may or may not end up getting a reduction in your bill.
Often, though, patients who protest loudly enough end up getting money taken off their bills. This is particularly true for patients who are paying their own bills. If your bill is for a surgery, then the list of supplies you've been overcharged for may be extensive. In this case, it can really pay off to make a fuss.
2) Be proactive from the start: You can avoid overcharges in the first place by asking ahead of time what medical supplies and surgical tools will be used. Request that less expensive alternatives be used instead.
You should also pay careful attention whenever medical supplies are used for your treatment. Nurses don't really care about how much you're paying for medical supplies.
They may overuse items like bandages unnecessarily. If you don't want multiple pieces of gauze used on a single cut then say so. It's your right as the person who is footing the bill.
3) Find out who your hospital is in bed with: If you know about your hospitalization ahead of time, ask questions. Find out who the hospital's major supplier is.
Do your own research and see how much they're charging for their medical supplies. If you have flexibility in picking a hospital, choose one that's not bound to an expensive supplier.