Piggy bank with dice and stethoscope

Piggy bank with dice and stethoscope Credit: iStock

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.

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.