Friday, March 7, 2008

That's Why They Call It An Emergency

Without insurance, people have more to worry about than covering a co-pay or a deductible. They have to pay for all of their procedures, tests, drugs and physician fees. If someone without insurance needs a procedure done, they now have a few online resources that may help them choose where to have that procedure done. I searched around the web for comparison sites, found a few, but the one that was the most comprehensive and user-friendly is (

At patients can search for prices by procedure (even with or without complications), by hospital, doctor, and can also find competitive prices for drugs, dental work, and quotes for personal/group medical insurance or health savings account. Not only that, but they have an informational subset to their site where people can inform themselves on health care issues.

I decided to take for a test run. I wanted to find the facts for what an uninsured 20-something would pay if they had to have an emergency appendectomy. Mayo Clinic’s website says that appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix; the appendix often becomes infected and requires surgery. Before or during surgery an appendix may burst and cause peritonitis, a serious infection. allows patients to get price estimates for surgeries that have no complications, mild complications or serious complications. I searched for a surgery with no complications and here are the results:

Average price for an appendectomy nationwide: $18,500
Number of hospitals in this average: 2,063

Spectrum Health Hospital
in Grand Rapids, Michigan offers the lowest cost on average for an appendectomy at $7,800.

Spectrum Health performs about 14 procedures a year.

However, if the doctor at Spectrum Health found it difficult to diagnose the patient’s condition AND there were surgery complications during the appendectomy the total cost would skyrocket- it would cost about $24,800.

Now lets compare that to if the uninsured patient went Fairview University Medical Center, the ER of choice for many students at the University of Minnesota.

At Fairview, a patient can expect to pay about $18,000 for a general appendectomy and $38,200 for an appendectomy with a tough appendicitis diagnosis and surgical complications.

There is no reasoning for the price variations and didn’t break down what is included in the price they quote. Does it include anesthesia, doctor’s fee, Emergency room costs, antibiotics, pain medications? That is something that I, as a patient, would want to know before I gave the estimates any more credibility.

Of course, I wanted to see who was behind Here is their “About Us” segment from their website.

“[ was] Founded in 2005 by Internet industry veterans from WebMD and Valicert, Vimo is funded by Bessemer Venture Partners, Trinity Ventures, and Partech International. Vimo operates out of headquarters in Mountain View, California.”

I found that Bessemer Venture Partners has a hand in Sirtris Pharmaceuticals, Restore Medical, Endonetics, Circe BioMedical, Epic Therapeutics and CHD Meridian Healthcare among others. Unsure, but this may cause some conflict of interest issues. could be used as a good tool for patients to gauge medical costs but should not be used as a definitive decision making tool . Still it is very important that uninsured people at any age understand how expensive an emergency medical procedure can be- and that’s why they are emergencies- unplanned and unfunded. Could you imagine spending somewhere behind $8,000-$38,000 tomorrow?

- Alex Harkness

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