10 Wildly Overinflated Hospital Costs You Didn’t Know About

Why exactly are our medical bills so high?

stethoscope, billing statement for doctor's work stone background top view space for text9dream studio/Shutterstock

Investigative journalist Steven Brill explored this in a recent, hot-button Time magazine cover story. After spending seven months analyzing hundreds of bills from hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and medical equipment manufacturers, he discovered that health care costs are largely arbitrary, inflated, and unfair. “The healthcare market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot,” he concluded. “Everyone fares differently based on circumstances they can neither control nor predict.”

In our own investigation last year, Reader’s Digest learned that it pays to try to get to the bottom of your medical bills, because they’re subject to more errors and overcharges than you might think. Here, Pat Palmer, founder of Medical Billing Advocates of America, a group that helps patients handle medical bills, reveals examples of ridiculous overcharges on a patient’s itemized bill (which you usually need to ask for—and review with a fine-toothed comb). Learn some more secrets hospitals won’t tell you.


Stethoscope surrounded by white prescription medication pillsVideo_Creative/Shutterstock

Charge to patient: $15 per individual pill, for a total of $345 during average patient stay

Patient belonging bag

plastic bags background, clipping path includedJozef Sowa/Shutterstock

Like a grocery bag, to hold your personal items.

Charge to patient: $8

This is how much every state in the U.S. spends on health care.

Box of tissues

Tissue paper in container on tableKittibowornphatnon/Shutterstock

Sometimes listed as “mucus recovery system,” a single tissue box in a hospital costs $8.

Charge to patient: $8

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Doctor putting on protective gloves, isolated on whiteRoman Seliutin/Shutterstock

Charge to patient: $53 per non-sterile pair (sterile are higher), for a total of $5,141 during average patient stay.

Cup medicine

Hand holds plastic cup with dose of different medicationsGlevalex/Shutterstock

Cost is for the plastic cup used to administer medicine, not the actual medicine inside it.

Charge to patient, per cup: $10, for a total of $440 during average patient stay

Asking these 16 questions could save you lots of money on medicine.

Marking pen

doctor marking young african woman face for plastic surgerymichaeljung/Shutterstock

To mark the body for surgery.

Charge to patient: $17.50

Cuff, BP Adult

Close-up Of Doctor Measuring Patients Blood Pressure With StethoscopeAndrey_Popov/Shutterstock

Use of blood pressure cuff in a hospital costs about $20.

Charge to patient: $20

Learn some surprising secrets your health insurance company is keeping from you.

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Oral administration fee

Doctor holding a glass of water with drug, pills, white background. Copy space. Medicine conceptj.chizhe/Shutterstock

Charge for a nurse to hand you medicine taken by mouth.

Charge to patient: $6.25 per instance, for a total of $87.50 during average patient stay

Improve your hospital stay with these tips straight from doctors and nurses.


equipment and medical devices in modern operating room take with selective color technique and art lightingnimon/Shutterstock

Cost of use of the overhead light in an operating room.

Charge to patient: $93.50

Swabs, alcohol

Disinfecting the arm skin by cotton before giving a injection vaccineRomanets/Shutterstock

Charge to patient: $23 per swab, for a total of $322 during average patient stay

Luckily, though, you don’t just have to helplessly accept these high hospital costs. Check out these tips to help lower your hospital costs.

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