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Data: Whaley, et al., 2020, "Nationwide Evaluation of Health Care Prices Paid by Private Health Plans"; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Employers and private insurers paid hospitals, on average, 247% of what Medicare paid for the same services in 2018, per a new RAND study.

Why it matters: We all pay for this giant gap in prices through our premiums and lost wages.

The big picture: The price gap has been growing, with private insurers paying hospitals 224% of Medicare rates in 2016 and 230% in 2017. In 2018, prices were 267% of Medicare for outpatient services and 231% for inpatient services.

Between the lines: Prices varied drastically by location and by health system. Some states, including New York and Florida, paid more than 300% of Medicare rates, on average.

  • The most expensive system, John Muir Health, had prices that were 401.5% of Medicare. Sutter Health, which has settled a lawsuit brought by the state of California accusing the hospital system of price-gouging, was paid 326.6% of Medicare.
  • HCA Healthcare, one of the largest hospital systems, had prices that were 275.8% of Medicare. Community Health Network, another large health system that has continued to sue patients in coronavirus hotspots, was paid 260% of Medicare rates.

The other side: Hospitals have long argued that private insurance subsidizes inadequate government payment rate, and that they must charge privately insured patients more to make ends meet.

The bottom line: Hospitals make up the largest portion of overall health care spending. The pandemic may have momentarily distracted us from health care costs, but they're still high, and the pandemic's economic fallout has only made them more unaffordable for many Americans.

Go deeper

Dec 8, 2020 - Axios Events

Most employers didn't pay furloughed workers' health care premiums

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

When the coronavirus forced businesses to tell their employees not to work, most kept paying at least some of those workers' wages — but not their health insurance premiums.

Why it matters: Millions of people have lost their income and their health care coverage at the same time during this pandemic, which could stick them with unaffordable medical bills or cause them to put off care they need.

Updated 6 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 6 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker