It Costs $350 to Make an Artificial Hip. But It Will Cost You $30,000 to Get One.


For the last few months, Elisabeth Rosenthal of the New York Times has been working on a series of stories about the high price of healthcare in America. In July she wrote about the high cost of childbirth, and earlier this month she wrote about the truly insane cost of hip replacements in America. But Bob Somerby has noted something interesting: nobody else in the media seems to care:

These articles deal with a very important topic—the massive looting of U.S. consumers which characterizes American health care. This looting helps explain a welter of major social and political problems—our nation’s growing income inequality; our stagnant wages; the failure to provide full medical coverage; the nation’s problems with federal deficits and debt.

But so what? Despite their high profile and apparent salience, Rosenthal’s reports have met with universal silence, except for last week’s Fresh Air….It’s going to win the Pulitzer Prize—and it’s going to do so in silence!

Despite the high profile afforded this series, the silence has been general all over the press, which seems paralyzed, dead in life. At the end of this report, we’ll offer our own speculations about the resounding silence.

Is this really true? Rosenthal’s piece implied that artificial hips cost about $350 to manufacture, but sell to hospitals for upwards of $5,000 or more—and are then marked up further by the hospital before they end up in an OR getting installed. It’s not clear if $350 is just the manufacturing cost, or if that’s the all-in burdened cost of producing a hip, but it almost doesn’t matter. Even if it’s the former, it means the full cost is unlikely to be more than $1,000 or so. Nonetheless, in the case of one particular implant, Rosenthal reports that U.S. hospitals pay an average of $8,000 and that even Belgian hospitals, which benefit from government-controlled pricing, pay $4,000. So everyone is paying a pretty hefty markup. Americans are just paying a super-hefty one, made worse by the fact that hospitals then add their own markup, bringing the price of the implant up to $30,000 or more.

So that’s at least a 30x markup to the end user just for the cost of the part. And that’s despite the fact that the technology is mature, volumes are high and increasing, and there are five companies “competing” for business. So what’s going on?

Rosenthal has some ideas, but in the end it remains unclear. Where are insurance companies? Where’s Medicare? Why isn’t anyone outraged by this? Is it just fatigue at the never-ending tsunami of stories about the lunatic cost of all the various bits and pieces of American healthcare? Bob is right: it’s a mystery.

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WE'LL BE BLUNT.

We have a considerable $390,000 gap in our online fundraising budget that we have to close by June 30. There is no wiggle room, we've already cut everything we can, and we urgently need more readers to pitch in—especially from this specific blurb you're reading right now.

We'll also be quite transparent and level-headed with you about this.

In "News Never Pays," our fearless CEO, Monika Bauerlein, connects the dots on several concerning media trends that, taken together, expose the fallacy behind the tragic state of journalism right now: That the marketplace will take care of providing the free and independent press citizens in a democracy need, and the Next New Thing to invest millions in will fix the problem. Bottom line: Journalism that serves the people needs the support of the people. That's the Next New Thing.

And it's what MoJo and our community of readers have been doing for 47 years now.

But staying afloat is harder than ever.

In "This Is Not a Crisis. It's The New Normal," we explain, as matter-of-factly as we can, what exactly our finances look like, why this moment is particularly urgent, and how we can best communicate that without screaming OMG PLEASE HELP over and over. We also touch on our history and how our nonprofit model makes Mother Jones different than most of the news out there: Letting us go deep, focus on underreported beats, and bring unique perspectives to the day's news.

You're here for reporting like that, not fundraising, but one cannot exist without the other, and it's vitally important that we hit our intimidating $390,000 number in online donations by June 30.

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