This is a great piece from the New York Times about the high price that hospitals charge patients for normal saline. Yes, normal saline – the highly complicated combination of sodium chloride and dihydrogen monoxide. Better known as salt and water.
One-liter IV bags normally contain nine grams of salt, less than two teaspoons. Much of it comes from a major Morton Salt operation in Rittman, Ohio, which uses a subterranean salt deposit formed millions of years ago. The water is local to places like Round Lake, Ill., or Rocky Mount, N.C., where Baxter and Hospira, respectively, run their biggest automated production plants under sterility standards set by the Food and Drug Administration.
Yup… Morton salt, which most of us have in the kitchen at home, and water – you know, that stuff that comes out of the faucet. The cost to produce a “bag” (one liter or just over a quart) of normal saline was approximately $1.07 in 2012. According to the article, a liter of normal saline is the “rare medical item that is cheaper in the United States than in France, where the price at a typical hospital in Paris last year was 3.62 euros, or $4.73.”
But the article goes on to dive into one of the biggest problems in health care costs, one not limited to normal saline but probably the most egregious given the humble nature of this life-saving fluid. Health care has become like any other business, brimming with middle-men and excessive markups that are clouded in mystery due to disclosure agreements and proprietary rights.
One of the patients in the story was charged $546 for six liters of saline that cost the hospital $5.16, not including the charge for administration of the solution and emergency room services. That amounts to a nearly 10,600% markup.
No wonder we have the highest GDP spending on health care in the world…