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Joint Surgery Patients Look Overseas

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.

Originally founded in December 2006 as an independent grassroots publication dedicated to coverage of health issues in Florida, Health News Florida was acquired by WUSF Public Media in September 2012.