Joint Surgery Patients Look Overseas

Aug 5, 2013

One of the most common operations in Florida -- joint replacement -- is the focus of the New York Times’ continuing series on how health-care pricing defies all the laws of economics. In other fields, as patents expire and technology matures, competition takes hold and prices fall, but not in health care.

It’s a burgeoning field, as aging baby boomers feel the pain from arthritis and old sports injuries. An artificial hip that costs $350 to manufacture has a list price in the U.S. of $13,000, and then hospitals mark it up 200 to 300 percent to insurers, the Times reports.

Meanwhile Europe and other advanced countries that do a lot of  joint replacement don’t allow the manufacturers to jack up prices that high, and rather than lose those markets, the companies comply.

The Times tells about a Colorado  man who had to pay for his own implant procedure, so he decided to go to Belgium. A private hospital outside Brussels charged about $13,700 for the global fee, including the surgeon, a week in rehab and a round-trip ticket. The price in the U.S. would have been $63,000, not including the prosthesis or the surgeon’s bill.