By the numbers

Permanent cardiac pacemaker implant (without major complications or co-morbidities)

Trident Medical Center

What the hospital charged: $135,723.13

What Medicare paid: $11,974.17

Roper Hospital

What the hospital charged: $50,608.64

What Medicare paid: $10,403.36

Medical University Hospital

What the hospital charged: $48,384

What Medicare paid: $17,594.64

Simple pneumonia and pleurisy (without major complications or co-morbidities)

Trident Medical Center

What the hospital charged: $27,069.44

What Medicare paid: $3,038.89

East Cooper Medical Center

What the hospital charged: $20,987.67

What Medicare paid: $2,529.92

Roper Hospital

What the hospital charged: $19,260.29

What Medicare paid: $2,947.94

Respiratory system diagnosis with ventilator support (for less than 96 hours)

Trident Medical Center

What the hospital charged: $97,003.13

What Medicare paid: $12,824.29

St. Francis Hospital

What the hospital charged: $73,418.57

What Medicare paid: $15,083.93

Roper Hospital

What the hospital charged: $56,208.16

What Medicare paid: $13,517,21

Level 1 hospital clinic visit (outpatient)

East Cooper Medical Center

What the hospital charged: $297.04

What Medicare paid: $50.38

Trident Medical Center

What the hospital charged: $214.85

What Medicare paid: $49.79

Roper Hospital

What the hospital charged: $84.41

What Medicare paid: $50.05

Source: 2012 fiscal year data, CMS

For many common procedures, Trident Medical Center charged the federal government more to treat Medicare patients in 2012 than other Charleston hospitals and, in a few cases, charged more than any South Carolina hospital.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released 2012 data for more than 3,000 facilities across the country on Monday, showing that hospitals, even medical centers located next door to each other, charged very different prices for the same inpatient and outpatient services.

For example, Trident Medical Center, a for-profit HCA South Atlantic hospital, charged the government $135,879.85 for "major cardiovascular procedures without a major complication or co-morbidity." Medical University Hospital billed Medicare $93,628.93 for the same procedure. Roper Hospital charged even less - $68,975.11. Trident also made a higher profit in 2012 than any other Charleston hospital, according to financial information published earlier this year by the S.C. Department of Health and Human Services.

But the charges don't impact how much Medicare patients pay for treatment. They pay the same amount regardless of the hospital they visit. The charges also bear no apparent correlation to the amount Medicare actually reimburses hospitals and don't indicate which hospitals provide better care.

For example, while Trident Medical Center charged Medicare $135,723.13 to implant a permanent cardiac pacemaker - more than any other South Carolina hospital - it was paid roughly the same as everyone else. Trident received $11,974.17 for the procedure. The average payment in 2012 among all hospitals in the state was $11,560.47, according to the federal data.

Sometimes, hospitals that charged the government less were paid more. Medical University Hospital billed Medicare about $48,000 to implant a pacemaker, less than half the price Trident Medical Center charged but was paid more than $17,000 for the procedure.

The hospital's reimbursement is based on what it charges the government, among other factors, including how much it actually costs to provide that care. The Medicare data only provides a glimpse at charges for some services.

"It's not showing the cost of that care," said Mike Gingras, chief financial officer for Trident Health.

"If patients were shopping solely on the gross charge, it's a misleading indicator," he said. "They'd be better off to look at what's the reimbursement - also the quality of the care provided at those hospitals."

Justin Davis, director of financial planning for Roper St. Francis Healthcare, explained that hospitals don't charge different insurers different rates for the same procedure.

"We charge the same for everything, but people pay us differently based on what it is," Davis said.

Medicare only pays a small percentage of the hospital charges, but private insurers, including BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina, pay more than the federal government.

"If this is aimed at transparency ... none of this information is really relative to the patient," Davis said. "It's just a step on the road to full transparency. I don't think it's adequate information."

In fact, some administrators worry that the data will be misconstrued by patients.

For example, hospitals that charge the government more to treat patients may not necessarily provide better care. That concept can be confusing in an economy where higher price is often associated with better quality.

"They should bring a quality aspect into this," Davis said. "It's not timely information either. This is two years old."

A spokeswoman for the S.C. Hospital Association, which launched a transparency task force last year and adopted five "guiding principles" to improve hospital price transparency, declined to comment on the Medicare data release. Spokeswomen for East Cooper Medical Center and the Medical University Hospital did not provide information by deadline.

The state Medicaid agency promised earlier this year to publish similar hospital charge data on its new transparency website. A spokeswoman for the agency said Monday she expects the information will be posted online in July.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.