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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

Ben Geman, author of Generate
20 mins ago - Economy & Business

GM's shrinking deal with Nikola

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

General Motors will no longer take an equity stake in Nikola Corp. or build its pickup truck, under a revised deal that still envisions GM as a key tech supplier for Nikola's planned line of electric and fuel cell heavy trucks.

Driving the news: The revised agreement Monday is smaller in scope than a draft partnership rolled out in September that had included a $2 billion stake in the startup and an agreement to build its Badger pickup.

1 hour ago - Technology

Exclusive: Facebook's blackout didn't dent political ad reach

Photo: Valera Golovniov/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Americans saw more political ads on Facebook in the week before the 2020 election than they did the prior week despite the company's blackout on new political ads during that period, according to Global Witness, a human rights group that espouses tech regulation.

Why it matters: The presidential election was a key stress test for Facebook and other leading online platforms looking to prove that they can curb misinformation. Critics contend measures like the ad blackout barely made a dent.

Wall Street wonders how bad it has to get

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Wall Street is working out how bad the economy will have to get for Congress to feel motivated to move on economic support.

Why it matters: A pre-Thanksgiving data dump showed more evidence of a floundering economic recovery. But the slow drip of crumbling economic data may not be enough to push Washington past a gridlock to halt the economic backslide.