A lot has been written about how much the cost of health care varies from one region to another — say, the difference between urban and rural hospitals. But prices also vary within one region, and even within the same hospital, based on the rates each patient’s insurance plan has negotiated.

The details: A new working paper, published yesterday in the National Bureau of Economic Research, aims to shed some light on the differences in what various insurers pay for the same services, using data from Massachusetts’ claims database.

By the numbers: On average, across a handful of common procedures, the most expensive major insurer pays about 13% more than the cheapest major insurer, the paper found.

  • The cheapest plan isn’t cheaper for every service. For example, in Massachusetts, Tufts Health Plan pays about 36% less than the Blue Cross Blue Shield plan for knee replacements. For MRIs, though, Tufts pays slightly more than Blue Cross.

Why it matters: This is another illustration of just how hard it is to do anything resembling comparison shopping in health care. Even when you already have an insurance plan, competing hospitals often can’t tell you how much a common procedure will cost.

  • To really get the most bang for your buck, you’d need to know what services you’re going to be in the market for, decide which hospital you’ll want to go to for those services, and sign up for the insurance policy with the lowest price for what you need.
  • That’s just not feasible. And in states that don’t have claims databases like the one in Massachusetts, it might not even be possible.

Go deeper

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m. EST: 32,135,220 — Total deaths: 981,660 — Total recoveries: 22,149,441Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 10 p.m EST: 6,975,980 — Total deaths: 202,738 — Total recoveries: 2,710,183 — Total tests: 98,481,026Map.
  3. Politics: House Democrats prepare new $2.4 trillion coronavirus relief package.
  4. Health: Cases are surging again in 22 states — New York will conduct its own review of coronavirus vaccine.
  5. Business: America is closing out its strongest quarter of economic growth.
  6. Technology: 2020 tech solutions may be sapping our resolve to beat the pandemic.
  7. Sports: Pac-12 will play this fall despite ongoing pandemic — Here's what college basketball will look like this season.
  8. Science: Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China — During COVID-19 shutdown, a common sparrow changed its song.
9 hours ago - Sports

Pac-12 will play football this fall, reversing course

A view of Levi's Stadium during the 2019 Pac-12 Championship football game. Photo: Alika Jenner/Getty Images

The Pac-12, which includes universities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Washington state, will play football starting Nov. 6, reversing its earlier decision to postpone the season because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Why it matters: The conference's about-face follows a similar move by the Big Ten last week and comes as President Trump has publicly pressured sports to resume despite the ongoing pandemic. The Pac-12 will play a seven-game conference football season, according to ESPN.

Dave Lawler, author of World
10 hours ago - World

Global coronavirus vaccine initiative launches without U.S. or China

Data: Gavi, The Vaccine Alliance; Map: Naema Ahmed/Axios

A global initiative to ensure equitable distribution of coronavirus vaccines now includes most of the world — but not the U.S., China or Russia.

Why it matters: Assuming one or more vaccines ultimately gain approval, there will be a period of months or even years in which supply lags far behind global demand. The COVAX initiative is an attempt to ensure doses go where they're most needed, rather than simply to countries that can produce or buy them at scale.

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