Where Women Pay Less, But More Often: the Gender Gap in Surgery Costs

Women get much more surgery than men — 1.5 million more surgeries among the top 10 procedures for each gender. However, the average price per procedure is 24% higher for men, as they receive more high-priced surgeries like coronary bypasses.

The 10 most common procedures for men and women

Starting in 2019, hospitals are required to publicly share price lists for their most common procedures. ValuePenguin calculated the prices of the most common operating-room procedures at some of the nation's top hospitals to understand who's spending more on medical care: men or women. We identified the below procedures to be the most common across men and women.

WomenMen
RankProcedureAverage CostNumber of ProceduresProcedureAverage CostNumber of Procedures
1Cesarean section$25,6171,242,710Coronary angioplasty (PTCA)$81,685314,625
2Knee replacement$70,151462,070Knee replacement$70,151290,825
3Hip replacement$70,151302,685Miscellaneous vascular procedures$81,201234,145
4Fallopian tube ligation$40,199254,445Spinal bone removal (laminectomy)$52,344220,730
5Spinal fusion$138,460246,470Hip replacement$70,151220,115
6Hysterectomy$52,982237,405Spinal fusion$138,460216,670
7Gallbladder removal$101,994228,095Partial bone excision$73,618183,845
8Removal of pelvic scar tissue$51,823222,035Miscellaneous procedures on muscles and tendons$27,501170,535
9Spinal bone removal (laminectomy)$52,344217,415Coronary bypass$151,786149,150
10Miscellaneous vascular procedures$81,201190,715Gallbladder removal$101,994144,360
Hip replacement and knee replacement are grouped together in hospital price lists, so the average costs are the same.

Prices for procedures are the same for men and women. Additionally, hospital price lists include knee and hip replacements in the same price bucket, so the average cost is the same for those procedures.

Women get more surgical procedures than men do, but men spend more per surgery

Women get more surgery than men do — when looking at the 10 most common procedures for each gender, women underwent slightly more than 3.6 million surgeries, compared to more than 2.1 million procedures for men. However, procedures that men receive tend to be more expensive. Among the 10 most common procedures, the average cost for a man is $84,889; the average cost for a woman is $68,492.

The most common procedure for women is a cesarean section, with more than 1.2 million procedures performed — this made it the most common surgery overall. The most common procedure for men was a coronary angioplasty, with 314,625 procedures performed.

Column chart showing the most common surgeries, sorted by least to most expensive

The most expensive surgeries involve joints and the heart

The most expensive procedure we analyzed was a coronary bypass, which has a typical price of $151,786. It's the ninth most common surgery for men but not among the top procedures for women. Furthermore, men accounted for 74% of all coronary bypasses performed in 2014.

Of the procedures we looked at, the most expensive procedures involved the heart and circulatory system ($104,890 on average) and the joints ($71,721 on average). The least expensive area of surgery was neonatal ($25,617).

The least expensive procedure overall was a cesarean section, which costs $25,617 on average before health insurance.


Reproductive surgeries: Very common for women but decreasing over time

One of the biggest factors contributing to the higher number of surgeries performed on women is the high number of neonatal and reproductive surgeries: cesarean section, fallopian tube ligation, hysterectomy and removal of pelvic scar tissue. Taken together, neonatal and reproductive procedures accounted for nearly 2 million surgeries among women; that's nearly as many surgeries as men received in aggregate across all 10 of their top procedures. Neonatal, reproductive and pregnancy-related surgeries account for 54.3% of surgeries performed on women. And none of the top procedures among men involved reproductive care at all.

However, the number of surgical procedures involving the reproductive system has decreased substantially over time. For example, the number of hysterectomies performed on women decreased by 340,355 over the last 10 years, or 59%.

Pie chart showing the relative frequency among most common medical procedures for women

Surgeries decreased over the last 10 years — especially for women

The overall number of surgeries performed has decreased for both men and women, but the change for women is markedly more. The number of procedures performed on women decreased by 567,532 — from approximately 4.2 million procedures to about 3.6 million. By comparison, men's procedures decreased by only 52,057.

Among the most common procedures, hysterectomies (for women) and heart angioplasties (for men) had the biggest decreases: hysterectomies fell by 340,355, or 59%; and angioplasties fell by 190,190, or 38%.

Column chart showing the change in number of procedures over 10 years

The procedure with the biggest increase? Knee replacement. Both men and women underwent more knee replacements in 2014 than 2004, with a total increase of 287,333 across both genders.

Methodology

To collect our data, we retrieved the 10 most commonly performed operating room procedures for males and females from the U.S. Government Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) website for 2014, the most recent year for which complete data is available, and calculated the average prices for each based on the price documents of six major hospitals around the country.

The final costs of a given medical procedure may vary, even at a given hospital, as insurance discounts and coverages differ by insurance provider.

Among common surgical procedures, we omitted circumcisions from our analysis, as they are almost exclusively performed on newborn infants who are not responsible for the final costs.

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