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When absurd hospital equipment pricing harms patients

Recent studies indicate that when individuals are already burdened with overwhelming medical bills, they are less likely to seek necessary medical care that they require presently. It can be very difficult to bring oneself to seek out additional overpriced treatment when one is already overcome by medical debt. This is just one way that overpriced medical care can directly harm patients.

A recent investigation by the New York Times suggests that outrageous pricing for basic medical equipment may be indirectly harming patients in this way. Whether due to hospital errors, unjustified price inflation by distributors or odd insurance adjustments, certain medical equipment and procedures are currently out of control.

The New York Times focused its efforts on questioning how a six liter bag of saline solution that costs between 44 cents and $1 to purchase from a manufacturer shows up on a patient's bill for $546. It is no wonder that patients are hesitant to seek medical treatment when even the most basic goods and services in the healthcare industry may cost more than many or most Americans make in a week.

Future discussions about patient safety need to include debate about healthcare costs and service pricing. Charging $546 for a bag of saline may not technically be a medical error or an act of medical malpractice, but price gouging harms patients in very real ways. It may be difficult or impossible to hold companies, administrators and individuals accountable for this particular harm. However, it is a critical safety issue that must be addressed with urgency.

Source: New York Times, "How to Charge $546 for Six Liters of Saltwater," Nina Bernstein, Aug. 25, 2013

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