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By Cameron Huddleston

Kiplinger Personal Finance

Figuring out how much hospitals charge for various procedures just got a lot easier.

NerdWallet, a site that specializes in personal finance and price-comparison tools, recently created a “How Much Hospitals Charge” tool (nerdwallet.com/health/hospitals) that lets consumers see the price of the 100 most common inpatient services at more than 3,200 hospitals across the country.

The site gives comparative data for Western New York hospitals that include Kaleida Health, Erie County Medical Center, Mercy Hospital and several rural hospitals across the region.

Angioplasty, heart attack, stroke, hip and joint replacement, and mental health services are among the categories listed.

“Consumers never had this information before,” says Christina LaMontagne, vice president of health for NerdWallet. “You went to the hospital with a blindfold on.”

NerdWallet’s data are based on a study by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The tool not only shows what hospitals charge but also the average amount the government’s Medicare program pays those hospitals for each of the 100 procedures. LaMontagne says there are several ways people can benefit from this information.

People who are uninsured or underinsured might benefit most from being able to find out which nearby hospital charges the least for a procedure they need and will have to pay for out of pocket. They also can use the price data to negotiate lower charges for services they receive.

For each procedure, the tool shows the number of patient cases at all of the hospitals. So if you’re concerned that the procedure you need has only been performed a few times at the lowest-priced hospital in your area, you still can go into a pricier facility armed with rate information that you can use to get that hospital to lower its price.

The information about what Medicare pays for services also can be a powerful bargaining tool. Those who have health insurance policies with high deductibles or co-insurance, which requires policyholders to pay a percentage of their bills, also can use the price information to find the most affordable hospital. The lower the cost of a procedure, the less they, too, will have to pay.

Remember, however, that the rates listed on the NerdWallet tool are what hospitals charge on average. Your insurer likely has negotiated prices with network providers that might be lower than the average rate a hospital charges.