Hospital care is getting more expensive for Americans

Data: United Health Group; Chart: Axios Visuals

Hospital prices for inpatient services increased more than the prices paid to doctors providing these services between 2013 and 2017, according to a new data brief by United Health Group.

By the numbers: Hospital prices for inpatient services increased by 19% over this time period, or by 4.5% per year. Physician prices for inpatient services increased by 10%, or 2.5% per year.

Yes, but: Part of insurers' job is to negotiate good rates for their enrollees, raising the question of how hospitals are able to cut such lucrative deals year after year.

  • Insurers say their hands are tied by hospitals with ever-increasing market share, a result of consolidation. This also gives hospitals power over the physicians working in them.

By the numbers: Privately insured patients paid more than $200 billion for hospital inpatient services in 2018, according to the brief.

  • This number is expected to rise to more than $350 billion in 2029.

Go deeper: Hospitals are swimming in cash

What's next

A reality check on hospital mergers

A new report funded by the American Hospital Association claims hospital mergers result in better care and savings for patients. But every other independent study shows the exact opposite — that hospital mergers lead to less competition and higher prices.

Why it matters: Hospitals represent the largest chunk of U.S. health care spending. And hospitals are acquiring more market power and commanding higher prices — bills that every American pays for in some part.

Hospitals winning big state battles

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Several states have made ambitious attempts to address health care costs, only to be thwarted by the hospital industry.

Why it matters: States' failures provide a warning to Washington: Even policies with bipartisan support — like ending surprise medical bills — could die at the hand of the all-powerful hospital lobby.

The plight of America's rural health care

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Rural America is stuck in a cycle of increasingly vulnerable patients with declining access to health care.

Why it matters: Rural patients often can't afford care, are being hounded by hospitals and collection agencies over their unpaid bills, and are facing the reality of life in communities where the last hospital has closed.