Do your homework on healthcare costs; procedures vary by hospital

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Healthcare does not come cheap, and to make matters more frustrating, the cost is different everywhere you go.

When frequent ear infections derailed little Amos McGrew, his parents arranged for ear tubes. When the problems persisted, Amos got ear tubes a second time.

When his parents opened the bill for the second procedure, their out-of-pocket expenses skyrocketed a stunning 433% in one year. The treatment was the same. So were the doctor, the insurance and the patient. The only difference was the hospital.

"We thought maybe, at that point, they had made a mistake," said Brandon McGrew, Amos' father.

There was no mistake. In June 2012, the first hospital billed $1,560  for Amos's ear tubes. A year later, the second hospital billed $5,260 for the identical procedure. The McGrew's share went from $239 to $1,274.

"That's just amazing to me. I cannot believe that," said Brandon McGrew.

Amos' mom Crystal called to complain. The hospital rep told her she should've done her homework.

"I mean, I guess looking back on it, I wish I had," said Crystal McGrew.

She could have contacted hospital billing departments to find out what they charge for a procedure. Federal law requires they tell you.

She then could compare those numbers to figures provided in websites, like, which find the highest and lowest price you'll pay in Central Virginia. Many insurance carriers provide cost estimate tools on their websites as well.

"It varies. You might find one hospital that might be lower on putting tubes in a child's ear, yet they might be higher on a tonsillectomy," said medical cost consultant Briggs Cochran.

Crystal and Brandon are still paying off the bills from the second procedure, the unexpected costs hitting them like a runaway train.

"We were naive about it. We didn't have the information," said Brandon.

Ask your doctor if he or she operates anywhere else. If you have the choice of an outpatient center, chances are it will cost less.

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