Earlier this month, in compliance with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and an August ruling from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, hospitals across the country … began publishing the estimated costs of their services.

Brace yourself.

The intent of the online price-check is for hospitals to be transparent so that patients may have more control over their health care costs.

Finally, the veil is being lifted on what hospitals preferred to keep shrouded in secrecy. And while the price tags carry a “suggested price” for specific procedures, the final tally will vary depending on who’s paying the tab.

But those prices are in the ballpark, as they say, and, well, dang. If you are on heart medicine, make sure you have taken your daily dose and prepare yourself for sticker shock. If you didn’t already know, health care in the United States is crazy expensive.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

In one study after another, the cost of medical procedures and prescriptions in U.S. markets dwarfs those of other advanced societies. And the price differences are not related to health outcomes. They simply demonstrate the ability of providers to profit at the expense of patients.

Here are just a handful of examples, as provided by the International Federation of Health Plans’ 2015 comparative price report:

• Humira is an injectable medication used to treat multiple autoimmune diseases, that range from rheumatoid arthritis to psoriasis to ulcerative colitis. It is one of the best-selling drugs in American history with American patients plopping down $6.5 billion in 2014 for the drug. While we here in the states paid an average price of $2,669, the Swiss were able to buy the exact same drug for $822. Had Americans been offered the lower price, we would have saved $4.5 billion – in one year for one drug.

• If you contract hepatitis C and you want a cure, your doctor may very well prescribe treatment using the drug Harvoni. On average across the U.S., that costs $32,114. The Swiss pay, on average, $16,861.

In fact, the treatment costs $10,000 more stateside than in any other developed country.

• Avastin? The cancer drug costs nine times more in the U.S. than in Britain.

• A simple MRI? On average, $1,119 in the U.S., $788 in the United Kingdom, $503 in Switzerland and $215 in Australia.

• How’s your heart? Well, hold on because a bypass operation in the U.S. will run you – on average – $78,318 while in Spain it checks in at $14,579.

• Also, know this: Americans go to the doctor less often. Despite having fewer office visits and shorter average hospital stays, the U.S. overall spends twice as much per person on health care than do people in comparable countries.

There’s nothing different about the Humira or the Avastin or the Harvoni prescribed here compared to other countries. It’s just that our splintered system of insurance carriers – hundreds of such companies, in fact, each representing a slender slice of the total population – is far less formidable sitting alone at the negotiating table.

Most other comparable nations have a central body that negotiates prices with hospitals and drug manufacturers. In the case of Great Britain, for instance, it has the weight of 63 million people for negotiators to leverage. As such, they get steep discounts from drug manufacturers.

Not so much here in the U.S. – a country of some 325 million people and countless insurance carriers. That fragmentation allows drug manufacturers to conquer the divide. As such, our health care costs far in excess of what it should.

Now that the new Congress has been sworn in, we fully expect them all to go about fixing what’s wrong with the ACA without destroying what is working – and there’s plenty that the law got right. Even Republican politicians now say they are on board with protecting pre-existing conditions. But somehow, some way, we have to pool the people’s power in numbers against the advantages that the current system gives away to the drug manufacturers. And that begins with an open and honest debate about universal health care.

Then and only then will it be safe to take a look at those costs at your local hospital.

Without heading in that direction, without lowering outrageously priced prescription drugs, health care costs here at home will continue to climb and our nation’s treasury will be sapped of its strength.

Sure, there are problems with the ACA, but nothing a little universal medicine wouldn’t cure.

— The Register-Herald

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