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Same surgery, same city, $118K difference

What if restaurants only told you how much your entree cost after your meal?

What if restaurants only told you how much your entree cost after your meal? Or suppose a dry cleaner billed you wildly different amounts each time you used them? While most goods and services in this country show their prices up front, hospitals are a glaring exception.

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The government study was released by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and based on hospital billings from 3,300 hospitals that accept Medicare. The study examined bills for the one hundred most common in-patient procedures.

The prices on those bills, however, don't tell the whole story. Medicare and insurers negotiate with hospitals to pay just a fraction of the initial billing request. Those who truly end up suffering are the uninsured. Ron Pollack, the executive director of the consumer health organization Families USA, tells NBC News, "Most perniciously, uninsured people are the ones who usually pay the highest prices for their hospital care. It is absurd – and, indeed, unconscionable."

Luke Russert filled in for Alex Wagner Thursday and spoke with the NOW panel about health care reform and how this study could impact the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.