Sometimes the price of health care seems to lack all rhyme or reason. This month, the Obama administration took a step to remedy the confusion by making hospital costs publicly available. The Medicare Provider Charge Data includes previously undisclosed charges and Medicare payments for the 100 most common inpatient services at 3,000 hospitals around the country. While insurance companies such as Medicaid negotiate payments with hospitals, uninsured or underinsured patients may be asked to cough up the full price.

The figures show considerable difference in costs between hospitals for the same type and quality of service. In North Carolina, for example, it costs about half as much to get a pacemaker at UNC as it does to get one at Duke or WakeMed. Now that these discrepancies are under scrutiny, patients can compare costs between facilities in their regionand hospitals may be motivated to lower their prices, inching us bit closer to that much-needed health care reform.