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Expand chart
Data: Health Care Cost Institute; Table: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Emergency rooms' prices are skyrocketing, and experts say that may be a side effect of the same factors that leave patients on the hook for unexpected bills.

Why it matters: Emergency rooms are collecting more money from private insurance plans, and at the same time they're also surprising patients with the news that their care wasn't covered. So whether you're covered or not, you're paying more.

The big picture: Hospitals get paid more for complex treatments than simple ones. Over the past decade, they've been categorizing more and more visits as complex, while also raising their prices for complex care.

  • Since 2008, the prices hospitals negotiate with insurers have gone up, as have patients' out-of-pocket costs, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.

Between the lines: HCCI's analysis doesn't include ER care that isn't covered by insurance — and that's the source of many of the surprise bills that have sparked so much political controversy.

  • But experts say the two issues are connected.
  • Patients get surprise bills when a specific ER doctor doesn't accept their insurance. The threat of those bills also gives doctors more leverage to demand higher rates from the insurance plans they do accept.

"A lot of the increase in code-specific rates likely stems from emergency physician groups more fully utilizing the leverage from the threat to surprise bill patients," Brookings' Loren Adler said.

What's next: Policymakers — in Congress and in the states — are eyeing a variety of ways to rein in surprise billing.

  • The most aggressive approach would likely be to simply mandate the rate doctors can charge for out-of-network care.
  • An arbitration process would likely be "the least aggressive option," Yale's Zack Cooper said.

Go deeper: We all pay for surprise emergency room bills

Go deeper

40 mins ago - World

Sudan's military places civilian prime minister under house arrest

Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok during a 2020 news conference in Khartoum, Sudan. Photo: Mahmoud Hjaj/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Sudan's civilian Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok was put under house arrest and several other ministers were also detained Monday in what appears to be a military coup in the country, per local reports.

Why it matters: The arrests of the civilian faction in the Sudanese government came a day after U.S. envoy Jeffrey Feltman met with the head of the military faction of the Sudanese government General Abdul Fattah al-Burhan and warned him against staging a coup.

"Atmospheric river" swings Northern California from drought to flood

Satellite view of the bomb cyclone swirling off the coast of the Pacific Northwest and the atmospheric river affecting California on Oct. 24. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are delivering historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest — triggering widespread power outages and flooding.

Why it matters: The strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is causing Northern California to whiplash from drought to flood.

Updated 3 hours ago - World

Saudi dissident claims MBS said he could get "poison ring" to kill king

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attending the Saudi Green Initiative Forum, via video link, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on Saturday. Photo: Royal Court of Saudi Arabia/Handout/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

A former senior Saudi intelligence official who worked with the U.S. on counterterrorism alleged to "60 Minutes" in an interview broadcast Sunday that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed in 2014 killing the kingdom's then-monarch.

Why it matters: The claim by the exiled Saad al-Jabri, whom Saudi authorities describe as "a discredited former government official," that the crown prince, known as "MBS," allegedly said he could obtain a "ring from Russia" to carry out the attack, is one of several serious but unproven allegations he made on the CBS show.

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