August 10, 2020 / Bernard J. Wolfson, Kaiser Health News
Dr. Ira Weintraub, a recently retired orthopedic surgeon who now works at a medical billing consultancy, saw a hip replacement bill for over $400,000 earlier this year.
“The patient stayed in the hospital 17 days, which is only 17 times normal. The bill got paid,” mused Weintraub, chief medical officer of Portland, Oregon-based WellRithms, which helps self-funded employers and workers’ compensation insurers make sense of large, complex medical bills and ensure they pay the fair amount.
Charges like that go a long way toward explaining why hospitals are eager to restore joint replacements to pre-COVID levels as quickly as possible — an eagerness tempered only by safety concerns amid a resurgence of the coronavirus in some regions of the country. Revenue losses at hospitals and outpatient surgery centers may have exceeded $5 billion from canceled knee and hip replacements alone during a roughly two-month hiatus on elective procedures earlier this year.
The cost of joint replacement surgery varies widely — though, on average, it is in the tens, not hundreds, of thousands of dollars. Still, given the high and rapidly growing volume, it’s easy to see why joint replacement operations have become a vital chunk of revenue at most U.S. hospitals.