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Part One: The Cost of Healthcare

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If you're ever been to the hospital, you know the headache of deciphering the bill once you leave.

But did you know that what you pay, is often very different from what another patient pays for the same procedure?

What you pay when you go to the hospital isn't always the same.

Your hospital bill depends on who you are, who your insurance provider is, what plan you're on, what hospital you go to, and a laundry list of other factors.

In Part One of The Cost of Healthcare, we take a look at what drives the bottom line, and why is it so confusing?

"We all have a mission and we have to fund the mission," said The Med CFO Wayne Colson.

The College Station Medical Center just finished a $32 million expansion with new beds, new equipment.

In Bryan, St. Joseph Regional Health Center has also opened the doors to its $35 million dollar bed tower.

"That's where all the money goes," said Colson.

The Med's Chief Financial Officer says the cost of keeping up with technology is passed on to you -- the patient.

"There's a lot of different cost you have to think about. From the people who register you. People who provide the service, the nurses, to the people who look to the dietary area -- house keepers, the whole thing," said Colson.

So shouldn't everyone pay the same if they're getting the same service?
Not at all.

The way it works could be compared to buying a car...not everyone pays the list price, because some insurers negotiate a better deal...however some pay the full price because for example they go to a doctor not covered by their insurance. Bottom Line: There's no across the board formula for what a patient will pay.

"We're a very unusual industry," said Lisa McNair.

McNair is the Vice President of Finance for St. Joseph.

She says everyone is charged the same, similar to a retail price...but insurance companies are often the ones who make a difference.

They may have a contract with the hospital that gives the patient a discount.

A patient's out of pocket expense also depends on how much their insurance covers.

If a person is on Medicaid or Medicare, the federal government tells the hospital what it will pay in spite of what the procedure actually costs.

And if a person has no insurance, hospitals negotiate directly with the patient to set up a payment schedule.

And as health care becomes more high tech, the cost for that health care is bound to go up.

"We have to pass the cost on. If we can provide the best care to our patients we have to be able to replace those technologies that cost so much in the industry," said McNair.

Hospital charges in California have been increasing faster than the national average, so last year California hospitals were mandated to post price lists and provide a list of charges for 25 common procedures if a patient asks for it.

There is no sign that Texas will follow suit, and hospitals say posting prices would make it even more confusing for patients.

"We can give prices for certain procedures but many times we don't know the complications that may exist with the procedure. We don't know the added pharmaceuticals that may occur and very many times it's hard to determine exactly how your case may turn out before you have it," said McNair.