The government’s response to TIME’s exposé on the state of the U.S. health care system was featured on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show on Monday. Following Steve Brill’s Bitter Pill special investigation into how hospitals price services, a state probe was launched into comparative medical costs for the top 100 procedures across 3,000 hospitals nationwide.
Brill revealed that health care providers offer services at prices that often bear very little relationship to costs. A secret double-pricing menu called the ‘charge master’ — a comprehensive list of services, procedures, equipment fees, drugs, supplies and diagnostic evaluations — is used to calculate bills sent to patients or a health insurance companies.
The subsequent government investigation also found huge discrepancies in the price of performing identical procedures. Treating a heart attack with no complications at Danville, Ark. cost $3,334 compared to a whopping $92,057 in Modesto, Cal. And vastly different prices were even being charged within the same state; a pacemaker in Livingston, N.J., costs $70,712 but $101,945 in nearby Rahway.
Brill argues this results in outrageous pricing and egregious profits destroying the industry. Jon Stewart makes the same point by donning a wizard’s hat to satirize how hospitals go about setting prices through magical spells and incantations.
GRAPHIC: What Makes Health Care So Expensive?