Have a heart attack in Ogdensburg, New York, and it'll cost $15,087 on average. But if you are treated in Valley Regional Medical Center in Brownsville, TX., the bill will be nearly $66,000.
The federal government, for the first time, has published the prices charged by thousands of different U.S. hospitals, and the numbers confirm what health reform advocates have been screaming about for years: the charges vary enormously, and for seemingly unclear reasons.
What the Obama administration hopes is that publishing these prices will help force health care providers to be more consistent in their billing. It's called transparency, and experts say a lack of price information is one of the single biggest forces that has driven up health care costs in the United States.
"Hospital pricing is the craziest of crazy quilts. Prices are wildly different from one community to another; they are inexplicably and enormously different among hospitals in the same cities," says Ron Pollack, executive director of the consumer health organization Families USA.
"Most perniciously, uninsured people are the ones who usually pay the highest prices for their hospital care. It is absurd – and, indeed, unconscionable – that the people least capable of paying for their hospital care bear the largest, and often unaffordable, cost burdens."
The data uses billing information for the 100 most common hospital stays paid for by Medicare, from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – mostly emphysema – to heart attacks, hip replacements and diabetes. The prices only cover Medicare, the federal health insurance plan for the elderly. Private insurers are often charged different prices, and people who pay cash are usually charged even more.
For treating acute myocardial infarctions -- heart attacks -- the costs ranged considerably, even within the same state. At Kingsbrook Jewish Medical Center in Brooklyn, NY, the average cost was $58,657, the data shows. Just across town, at Bellevue Hospital in Manhattan, the average was $38,514. Upstate at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, NY, the cost was just $21,526.
Even in small states the cost varies widely. In South Carolina, Trident Regional Medical Center in North Charleston billed Medicare $59,059 on average to treat 26 heart attack cases in 2011. Aiken Regional Medical Center billed $36,895.
More from NBC News: