Oct 30, 2018

Everyone's health care price differs, even at the same hospital

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

Live updates: Possible U.S. community spread of coronavirus as more countries report cases

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and China's Health Ministry. Note: China numbers are for the mainland only and U.S. numbers include repatriated citizens.

The CDC said Wednesday U.S. clinicians have found the novel coronavirus in a person who did not recently return from a foreign country nor knowingly have contact with anyone infected, as six more countries reported their first cases.

The big picture: COVID-19 has killed more than 2,700 people and infected over 81,000 others. By Wednesday morning, South Korea had the most cases outside China, with 1,261 infections. Europe's biggest outbreak is in Italy, where 374 cases have been confirmed.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 9 mins ago - Health

Mass shooting in Milwaukee: What we know so far

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in 2012. Photo: John Gress/Corbis via Getty Images

Six people died in a shooting at the Milwaukee Molson Coors brewery complex on Wednesday, including the shooter, Mayor Tom Barrett told reporters at an evening press conference with local police.

What's happening: Police said "there is no active threat" just before 6 pm ET, but noted the scene remains active. Police chief Alfonso Morales told reporters that officers have "more than 20 buildings we have to secure" at the complex and they do not currently have all employees accounted for, as more than 1,000 were at the complex during the shooting.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 40 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Trump assigns Pence to lead U.S. coronavirus response


President Trump announced at a press briefing Wednesday evening that he'll be putting Vice President Mike Pence in charge of leading the administration's response to the coronavirus.

The big picture: In the wake of a market sell-off and warnings from health officials that there's a real threat of the coronavirus spreading in the U.S., Trump sought to reassure the nation and Wall Street that the U.S. is "ready" for whatever comes next.

Go deeperArrowUpdated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy