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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Federal proposals that would require hospitals and health plans to publish their secretly negotiated prices may not do much to change individual behaviors, but companies that offer health insurance to employees could use that information to bargain for better rates and lower their health care expenses.

Where it stands: Employer groups are divided over the proposals, despite the potential upside.

The big picture: Revealing prices would allow employers to see which hospitals and doctors are ripping them off and which insurers are obtaining good discounts.

  • Employers then could use the data to drive better bargains for some hospital services, and savings hypothetically could be passed along to workers in the form of higher wages and other benefits.

Yes, but: There are concerns about whether airing prices would paradoxically raise them. And in markets where either providers or insurers are highly consolidated, those entities would still hold all negotiating power.

  • "Price transparency alone is not going to change all that much if we don't change the way we purchase health care," said Kate Baicker, a health economist at the University of Chicago.

What they're saying: Many companies have already endorsed proposals, pending in Congress, to analyze medical claims through a national database.

  • The Society of Professional Benefit Administrators, which represents the third parties that help employers process insurance claims, has suggested that hospitals should have to report certain pricing data.
  • James Gelfund, a vice president at ERIC, a lobbying group that focuses on benefits for large employers, compared the issue to a Gordian knot: "Employers have whipped out their swords and are ready to chop that sucker in half ... so long as everything is secret and proprietary, we're never going to solve anything."

Those views contrast starkly with other major lobbying groups that represent large employers.

  • The U.S. Chamber of Commerce said in September that price transparency proposals were a government overreach and would confuse people. Some of the Chamber's most influential members are health care companies.
  • The American Benefits Council and National Business Group on Health similarly have not endorsed mandatory price disclosures.
  • Consumers First, a coalition of employer and consumer groups, said it doesn't mind unlocking negotiated rates — as long as the rates are only viewable for "payers, providers and policymakers."

Between the lines: The health care industry hates price transparency because it would open their black box, and some employer groups have decided to protect those interests.

Go deeper

Senate Democrats demand answers on FBI's Kavanaugh probe

Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Senate Democrats are demanding that the FBI hand over "all records and communications" related to the FBI tip line set up to investigate Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh when he was a nominee in 2018.

Why it matters: The ask comes after the FBI revealed it received more than 4,500 tips about Kavanaugh when he was awaiting Senate confirmation amid sexual assault allegations. Only the most "relevant" of these tips were forwarded to the Trump White House.

Chip relief on the horizon

Illustration: Sarah Grillo

Good news: The worst of the chip supply crunch might be near.

The other side: Here's the bad news... CEOs say chips totally flowing like normal is still a ways out.

Trump ally Tom Barrack pays $250 million bond to get out of jail

Tom Barrack speaking at a symposium in Tokyo in March 2019. Photo: Kiyoshi Ota/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Real estate investor Tom Barrack paid a federal court a bond of $250 million to get out of jail on Friday while awaiting trial after he was arrested and charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, AP reports.

Driving the news: A federal judge also ordered Barrack, a longtime ally of former President Trump and chair of his inaugural committee, to wear a GPS monitoring bracelet at all times and barred him from transferring funds overseas.

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