10 Wildly Overinflated Hospital Costs You Didn’t Know About

Updated: Mar. 30, 2022

A Tylenol pill for $15? Or $53 per pair of gloves? Here, a medical billing advocate reveals some of the crazy costs of some very basic medical goods.

stethoscope, billing statement for doctor's work stone background top view space for text
9dream studio/Shutterstock

Why exactly are our medical bills so high?

Investigative journalist Steven Brill explored this in a recent, hot-button Time magazine cover story. After spending seven months analyzing hundreds of bills from hospitals, doctors, drug companies, and medical equipment manufacturers, he discovered that health care costs are largely arbitrary, inflated, and unfair. “The healthcare market is not a market at all. It’s a crapshoot,” he concluded. “Everyone fares differently based on circumstances they can neither control nor predict.”

In our own investigation last year, Reader’s Digest learned that it pays to try to get to the bottom of your medical bills, because they’re subject to more errors and overcharges than you might think. Here, Pat Palmer, founder of Medical Billing Advocates of America, a group that helps patients handle medical bills, reveals examples of ridiculous overcharges on a patient’s itemized bill (which you usually need to ask for—and review with a fine-toothed comb). Learn some more secrets hospitals won’t tell you.

Stethoscope surrounded by white prescription medication pills


Charge to patient: $15 per individual pill, for a total of $345 during average patient stay

plastic bags background, clipping path included
Jozef Sowa/Shutterstock

Patient belonging bag

Like a grocery bag, to hold your personal items.

Charge to patient: $8

Tissue paper in container on table

Box of tissues

Sometimes listed as “mucus recovery system,” a single tissue box in a hospital costs $8.

Charge to patient: $8

Doctor putting on protective gloves, isolated on white
Roman Seliutin/Shutterstock


Charge to patient: $53 per non-sterile pair (sterile are higher), for a total of $5,141 during average patient stay.

Hand holds plastic cup with dose of different medications

Cup medicine

Cost is for the plastic cup used to administer medicine, not the actual medicine inside it.

Charge to patient, per cup: $10, for a total of $440 during average patient stay

Asking these 16 questions could save you lots of money on medicine.

doctor marking young african woman face for plastic surgery

Marking pen

To mark the body for surgery.

Charge to patient: $17.50

Close-up Of Doctor Measuring Patients Blood Pressure With Stethoscope

Cuff, BP Adult

Use of blood pressure cuff in a hospital costs about $20.

Charge to patient: $20

Learn some surprising secrets your health insurance company is keeping from you.

Doctor holding a glass of water with drug, pills, white background. Copy space. Medicine concept

Oral administration fee

Charge for a nurse to hand you medicine taken by mouth.

Charge to patient: $6.25 per instance, for a total of $87.50 during average patient stay

Improve your hospital stay with these tips straight from doctors and nurses.

equipment and medical devices in modern operating room take with selective color technique and art lighting


Cost of use of the overhead light in an operating room.

Charge to patient: $93.50

Disinfecting the arm skin by cotton before giving a injection vaccine

Swabs, alcohol

Charge to patient: $23 per swab, for a total of $322 during average patient stay

Luckily, though, you don’t just have to helplessly accept these high hospital costs. Check out these tips to help lower your hospital costs.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest