As far as price tags go, it's an attention grabber: $546 for six liters of water and 54 grams of salt. But that's what one patient was charged for what the New York Times calls "one of the most common components of emergency medicine": the IV bag. Nina Bernstein digs into the numbers by way of a 2012 food poisoning outbreak in upstate New York. She reviewed some of the more than 100 affected patients' bills, and quickly realized that some were charged as much as 200 times the manufacturer's price for a liter of saline—which has recently ranged from 44 cents to $1—plus another change for "IV administration."
A patient at White Plains Hospital got a bill that included $91 for a single unit of Hospira IV (hospital's cost: 86 cents), plus $127 for administering it. The $546 figure comes from the bill of a woman who spent three days in the same hospital, which paid $5.16 for her six liters of saline. Bernstein acknowledges we're pretty numb to the reality of inflated health-care costs, but sees something more in "the tale of the humble IV bag": "secrecy that helps keep prices high." It's the product of purchasing organizations and distributors and other players who make deals that "so obscure prices and profits that even participants cannot say what the simplest component of care actually costs, let alone what it should cost," she writes. "And that leaves taxpayers and patients alike with an inflated bottom line and little or no way to challenge it." Read her full piece here. (Read more health care stories.)