New survey data from the American Hospital Association underscore the wide variation in hospital expenses from state to state and between different types of facilities.
Adjusted expenses per inpatient day in 2015 were highest at not-for-profit hospitals, at $2,413, and lowest at for-profit hospitals, at $1,831, according the AHA's latest annual survey.
The figures are estimates of how much a day of inpatient care costs. They include expenses for both inpatient and outpatient care, and the days are adjusted higher to take into account the estimated volume of outpatient services.
New Jersey had the nation's highest adjusted daily expenses per patient at state and local government hospitals. The public hospitals in New Jersey had expenses of $4,569 per inpatient day, compared with $407 per inpatient day at similar hospitals in South Dakota, the lowest in the U.S.
South Dakota was also the least expensive for not-for-profit hospitals, at $1,232. The most expensive was California, with $3,752 in expenses per inpatient day. Average expenses at state and government hospitals were $2,013.
South Dakota came in second for greatest for-profit hospital expenses, beat only by its neighbor to the north, North Dakota, which had $4,095 in expenses per inpatient day. The state with the lowest expenses at for-profit hospitals was Maine, at $870.
"Hospitals tend to spend what they get," said Gerard Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins University. "So most of the differences in cost are probably attributable to what they receive from the private insurers." That means in states where private insurers pay more, expenses are higher.
One of the takeaways, he said, is that patients looking for deals on hospital services might need to travel to different states—or even different countries. In Europe, he said, expenses per inpatient day are at most half of what they are in the U.S.