Studies looking at California's high healthcare costs

Healthcare costs are on the rise.

So much so that many families find themselves on the brink of bankruptcy, fighting a traumatic or chronic illness.

A new study looks into some of the factors driving costs so high

Sandy Lang, 72, had a heart attack and says he's fortunate he can bear the high cost of his care, but knows that's not the case for so many.

"It bothers me that there could be anyone walking the planet, in the United States that can't afford or can't be taken care of," said Lang.

His bill? Close to $100,000.

Like everyone who's received a medical bill, it astounds him.

A new study headed by Dr. Richard Scheffler at the UC Berkeley School of Public Health took a closer look at what's driving up medical costs.

Researchers uncovered some huge disparities among the state's 58 counties.

Areas where there were more consolidations had higher prices.

That's when hospitals buy or combine doctors' medical practices.

"Consolidation will drive up costs if they use consolidation in negotiations and have market power where there is limited competition in the area," said Scheffler.

One example is heart attack costs.

The average cost in San Francisco was $24,000.

Compare that to $15,000 for a patient in East Los Angeles.

The same was true of premiums.

The monthly cost of a Covered California Silver Plan in East Los Angeles was $258.

In San Francisco, it was $440.

Dr. Daniel Eisenberg, whose cardiology practice was consolidated, understands the idea is to combine resources and downsize staffing.

But he feels it'll be a while before we see lower costs.

"Right now it's not leading to cost savings," Eisenberg said. "But everyone thinks it will mature into that. We'll have to see how this all works out."

He also believes some of what's driving consolidations is the Affordable Care Act and fear of government oversight.

Because of this study, the California Department of Justice is now getting involved.

Scheffler said, "It's the old story, where there's smoke there's fire, and we've given the AG lots of smoke and lots of places to look."

The state's Attorney General has formed a strike force to look into why healthcare prices are so different throughout California.

Researchers say consumers have the right to know.
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