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      Wide differences in hospital bills in Grand Strand, Pee Dee

      There's new information available about how much hospitals charge for their services and it shows wide disparities from one hospital to the next.

      Those cost variations include hospitals in the Grand Strand and Pee Dee.

      The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services released data from more than 3,000 hospitals on what they charge for the 100 most common Medicare services.

      Examples of the vast disparities include a major joint replacement procedure that costs about $5,300 in Ada, Oklahoma and more than $220,000 dollars in Monterey Park, California.

      Geography doesn't explain all of it. There can be wide differences among hospitals in the same region.

      For example, for five hospitals we compared in our area, the cost for that same major joint replacement procedure would range from $42,268 at Conway Medical Center to $100,722 at the Carolinas Hospital System in Florence.

      For treatment of chest pain, Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in Myrtle Beach charged Medicare $14,238 and at Waccamaw Medical Center in Murrells Inlet it was about the same: $14,511.

      But at Carolinas Hospital System, the procedure cost $24,636.

      WPDE NewsChannel 15 tried to reach the administration at Carolinas Hospital System for comment, but they did not return our calls.

      Dr. Michael Latta, who teaches marketing at Coastal Carolina University, says some cost disparities are understandable.

      For example, hospitals may define or bundle procedures differently, making it difficult to compare one to another. Also, some hospitals simply have sicker patients.

      But he says that doesn't explain all of it.

      "These things are so complicated and the pricing models that hospitals use are so complicated and complex that for most people you would have to have an economics degree to understand what they're trying to do," Latta said.

      Latta says patients usually have no idea what they will be charged.

      He says much gamesmanship goes on between hospitals and insurers, with the patient left out completely.

      "If we could get it so that it was patient-centered medicine rather than doctor- and payer-centered medicine, we would have better medicine."

      Latta says making this cost comparison data public could help hold costs down for routine operations, but probably not for more complex procedures.

      To download the data from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, click here.

      For the New York Times searchable database of the same information, click here.