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Expand chart
Data: Rand Corporation; Chart: Lazaro Gamio/Axios

Private insurance plans pay hospitals, on average, 241% of what Medicare pays for the same services — and those rates vary widely from hospital to hospital, according to a new report by the RAND Corporation.

Why it matters: Hospitals make up the largest portion of health care spending, and even people who don't use hospital services pay for them through their premiums.

The big picture: This report reinforces that private insurance generally pays a lot more than Medicare, but it also is the first broad-based study to compare individual hospitals by name — giving it some practical utility for employers and insurers, which is often hard to come by because of the industry's secrecy.

Details: The study includes 1,600 hospitals in 25 states, covering $13 billion in payments from 2015 to 2017.

  • If hospitals had been paid Medicare rates over this period, the employers included in this study would have saved $7.7 billion.
  • Prices ranged from 150% of Medicare to more than 400%, depending on the hospital system. There was also significant variation among states.
  • Outpatient service rates were, on average, 293% of Medicare, while the average inpatient price was 204%.

Yes, but: Hospitals argue that they lose money on Medicare patients because the reimbursement rate is too low, so they have to charge private enrollees more to make up the difference.

The bottom line: Health care costs are only going to rise for those with private insurance. This study suggests that while tackling hospital rates may not be easy, it's an area that's ripe for reform, if employers — or policymakers — decide that they've had enough.

Go deeper: Employers' health care crisis will only get worse

Go deeper

27 mins ago - Podcasts

The vaccine race turns toward nationalism

The coronavirus pandemic is worsening, both in the U.S. and abroad, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths all rising.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the state of global vaccine development — including why the U.S. and China seem to going at it alone — with medicinal chemist and biotech blogger Derek Lowe.

Updated 41 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day.
  2. Politics: Top HHS spokesperson pitched coronavirus ad campaign as "helping the president" — Space Force's No. 2 general tests positive for coronavirus.
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases — Europe faces "stronger and deadlier" wave.
  4. Sports: Boston Marathon delayed MLB to investigate Dodgers player who joined celebration after positive COVID test.
Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Updated 2 hours ago - Economy & Business

How central banks can save the world

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

The trillion-dollar gap between actual GDP and potential GDP is a gap made up of misery, unemployment, and unfulfilled promise. It's also a gap that can be eradicated — if central banks embrace unconventional monetary policy.

  • That's the message from Eric Lonergan and Megan Greene, two economists who reject the idea that central banks have hit a "lower bound" on interest rates. In fact, they reject the idea that "interest rates" are a singular thing at all, and they fullthroatedly reject the idea — most recently put forward by New York Fed president Bill Dudley — that the Fed is "out of firepower."

Why it matters: If Lonergan and Greene are right, then central banks have effectively unlimited ammunition in their fight to increase inflation and employment. They are limited only by political will.