Chicago Tribune

Why don't more people shop for health care? Online tools exist, but most don't use them

CHICAGO - At Rush University Medical Center on Chicago's West Side, the median charge for a vaginal birth was $16,703 last year.

Three miles away, at Norwegian American Hospital, it cost about half that: $8,873.

Most patients don't pay those charges, instead paying a sum based on rates negotiated between hospitals and health insurance companies. But even after those negotiations, stark differences often remain - disparities that can hit the wallet hard.

Though consumers have long bemoaned rising health care costs, few people shop for health care the way they might shop for a car, comparing prices. Some don't realize a procedure can cost tens of thousands of dollars more at one hospital versus another. Others would rather rely on referrals or don't know where to go to find information. Hospital prices vary for a number of reasons, including

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