It pays to shop around for health care, study finds

NEW YORK -- A new study out Wednesday found patients are often charged drastically different prices for the same medical procedures.

In 2008, when Nancy Marie Bergman of Merrick, N.Y., was diagnosed with breast cancer, she struggled not only with her disease, but with figuring out how much it would all cost.

"It put more stress on me than the actual diagnosis of cancer," she said.

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Nancy Marie Bergman of Merrick, N.Y. CBS News

Wednesday's report by Castlight Health ranked cities by the price of common women's services, such as office visits, HPV screenings and mammography. Sacramento, California, ranked highest on mammograms, at an average $485, compared to $159 in Cincinnati.

Michelle Scott is general counsel for Fair Health, a consumer organization that tried to make health care costs more transparent.

When asked if there has there been anything that just knocked her socks off, Scott said, "Sometimes the fact that there are such disparities in pricing and that they can occur within blocks of each other."

For example, a mammogram done for suspected cancer for where Bergman lives is $221, but 40 miles away, in Teaneck, N.J., the same test is $95.

Why is there such a wide range of prices for these same procedures?

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Michelle Scott, general counsel for Fair Health. CBS News

"There's a wide range because there's a lot of different circumstances," said Scott. "And the costs may be driven up by other factors -- overhead, rental considerations and the methods doctors use to perform the procedures."

"I think consumers need to take a more proactive role in their health care future," said Bergman. "There are tools they can use in order to make proper decisions so they can be the educated consumer which we need to be in this day and age."

Online tools can help calculate medical costs based on your zip code. Scott acknowledged it can take work to learn the details, but she said, "We don't usually buy a house without checking out what the mortgage terms are."

  • Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for the CBS Evening News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook