When you drive to a service station to get a part replaced, you'll usually get an estimate and a good idea what the repair will cost. But if you need to have a part of your body replaced, you'll be lucky to get any estimate at all.

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Researchers from Washington University in St. Louis called 122 hospitals around the country asking for the "lowest complete price" for hip-replacement surgery. Using the same script for each call, a researcher told a hospital representative the surgery was for a 62-year-old grandmother. Only 19 of the 122 hospitals provided a complete price. Most shocking was the disparity in the estimates, which ranged from $11,100 to $125,798.

The study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, concluded that "many health care providers cannot provide reasonable price estimates." Researchers recommended that anyone needing elective hip-replacement surgery shop around and be persistent. In some cases, researchers needed to call a hospital up to five times before they got any price information.