10 Wildly Overinflated Hospital Costs

A Tylenol pill for $15? Or $53 per pair of gloves? Here, a medical billing advocate reveals some of the crazy costs of some very basic medical goods.

Why exactly are our medical bills so high?


Investigative journalist Steven Brill explored this in a recent, hot-button Time magazine cover story. After spending seven months analyzing hundreds of bills from hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and medical equipment manufacturers, he discovered that health care costs are largely arbitrary, inflated, and unfair. “The health care market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot,” he concluded. “Everyone fares differently based on circumstances they can neither control nor predict.”

In our own investigation last year, Reader’s Digest learned that it pays to try to get to the bottom of your medical bills because they’re subject to more errors and overcharges than you might think. Here, Pat Palmer, founder of Medical Billing Advocates of America, a group that helps patients handle medical bills, reveals examples of ridiculous overcharges on a patient’s itemized bill (which you usually need to ask for—and review with a fine-toothed comb).



Charge to patient: $15 per individual pill, for a total of $345 during average patient stay

Patient belonging bag


Like a grocery bag, to hold your personal items

Charge to patient: $8

Box of tissues

istock/Stephanie Frey

Sometimes listed as “mucus recovery system”

Charge to patient: $8

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Charge to patient: $53 per non-sterile pair (sterile are higher), for a total of $5,141 during average patient stay

Cup medicine


Cost is for the plastic cup used to administer medicine, not the actual medicine inside it

Charge to patient, per cup: $10, for a total of $440 during average patient stay

Marking pen


To mark the body for surgery

Charge to patient: $17.50

Cuff, BP Adult


Use of blood pressure cuff

Charge to patient: $20

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Oral admin. fee


Charge for nurse to hand you medicine taken by mouth

Charge to patient: $6.25 per instance, for a total of $87.50 during average patient stay


istock/Hancu Adrian

Cost of use of overhead light in operating room

Charge to patient: $93.50

Swabs, alcohol

istock/Jaimie D. Travis

Charge to patient: $23 per swab, for a total of $322 during average patient stay

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