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Hospitals set their own prices for services and provide this information to consumers through what is called a "master charge list" or "standard charge list" in two forms: CDM and DRG.

Both estimates use jargon and have their caveats.

Scroll to the end of this story to see  a larger, full-screen version of the hospital charges chart.

This graphic presents DRG charges. DRG stands for diagnosis-related group. It's easier to compare DRG than CDM (charge description master) estimates because the DRG's code is more transparent to people without medical training.

The DRG exists to process Medicare claims more quickly by simplifying charges. Instead of billing Medicare for each service a patient receives, a medical billing specialist will pick one of 740 DRG categories, or groups, most similar to the treatment a patient received. The center will bill Medicare for that pre-determined DRG amount instead of the specific services provided.

DRG estimates are based on the average cost of resources an individual hospital spends to provide treatment to Medicare patients for ailments such as pneumonia or hip replacement surgery.

Because DRGs only consider the charges driven by Medicare patients, they do not provide an estimate of what an average patient pays per treatment. Medicare patients tend to be over age 65. The cost estimate also does not consider how a person's health insurance will reduce the price or what a person will pay for a service out-of-pocket.

DRG estimates are affected by the communities they serve as well. A hospital with a lot of Medicare insurance-carriers in its patient population may have less expensive DRG cost estimates for service because, on average, the hospital has a cap on what it can charge for Medicare services regardless of the real cost to the medical group. In a particularly unhealthy environment, DRG estimates could be higher.

However, the DRG is one of the few clear measures of how much hospitals are charging for services. So, let's take a look at what the area's nine hospitals are charging for services:

Double click on the below graphic to see a  larger, full-screen version of the data.

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