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Expand chart
Data: Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services; Chart: Kerrie Vila/Axios

Several pharmaceutical companies have recently said they'll delay some of their price increases, under pressure from the Trump administration. But hospitals have made no such concessions, even though they make up a much larger share of total health care spending.

The bottom line: Axios reached out to 27 hospital systems, many of which have some of the highest charges in the country. All of them were silent about whether they would lower or hold off on price increases.

Driving the news: Pfizer, Novartis, Merck and other drug makers have said they will delay, freeze or roll back price increases on some of their medicines.

  • Experts largely dismissed those pledges as political bandages with little real effect on patients' pocketbooks. But President Trump's ability to publicly pressure drugmakers into even those steps is still noteworthy.

The big picture: Drug pricing is the political controversy of the moment, but hospitals cost the health care system far more.

  • Retail drug spending represents 10% of U.S. health care spending, while hospital and doctor services consume about half of spending.
  • Health care prices have grown somewhat slowly over the past few years. But slow growth of high prices still leaves high prices.
  • Hospitals' sticker prices, like the list prices of drugs, are not indicative of what most people pay, but they are still important when it comes to negotiating with commercial health insurers.
  • A major difference worth highlighting is that Medicare sets its own fixed payment rates for hospital services, but does not have that power over prescription drugs.

What we're hearing: Almost nothing from the hospital industry.

Axios reached out to 27 hospital systems that have some of the highest charges in the country, according to federal data. None said they would follow drug companies' symbolic gestures and delay, freeze or lower their prices.

  • Ed Fishbough, a spokesperson at for-profit chain HCA Healthcare, said hospital pricing has been under pressure. Over the past five years, the company's prices have "increased an average of approximately 2.5% annually."
  • Sutter Health has limited its price hikes to "less than 3% annually since 2012," said Karen Garner, a spokesperson for the California system, who then argued "some insurance companies increased their rates to consumers by as much as 20% in a single year."
  • Terry Lynam, a spokesperson for Northwell Health in New York, said Northwell and most other systems have "extremely narrow margins ... unlike pharmaceutical companies," and that Northwell is "always looking for ways of reducing the cost of care."
  • 24 hospital systems either declined to comment or did not respond after multiple requests: Ascension, Bon Secours Health System, Catholic Health Initiatives, Cedars-Sinai, Cleveland Clinic, Community Health Systems, Dignity Health, Florida Hospital, Hospital for Special Surgery, Keck Medicine of USC, LifePoint Health, MedStar Health, Mercy Health, NewYork-Presbyterian, Northwestern Memorial HealthCare, NYU Langone Health, Partners HealthCare, Stanford Health Care, Tampa General Hospital, Temple University Health System, Tenet Healthcare, UPMC, Westchester Medical Center Health Network and Yale New Haven Health.

Go deeper

29 mins ago - World

Jimmy Lai among Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders sentenced to prison

Students standing under a banner during a flag raising ceremony on the first annual National Security Education Day in Hong Kong. Photo: Vernon Yuen/NurPhoto via Getty Images

A Hong Kong court sentenced a group of pro-democracy activists to up to 18 months in prison Friday for organizing a massive unauthorized protest in August 2019 that drew an estimated 1.7 million people, AP reports.

Why it matters: Critics say the sentences send the message that even peaceful pro-democracy activism will be severely punished. They mark a continuation of Beijing's overhaul of Hong Kong's political structure, designed to crack down opposition to the Chinese Communist Party.

Local news moves to the inbox

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

A slew of new companies are launching platforms for local newsletters, a shift that could help finally bring the local news industry into the digital era.

Driving the news: Substack, the email publishing platform for independent journalists, on Thursday announced a new local news platform.

J&J vaccine pause hurts its reputation

Reproduced from Economist/YouGov poll; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans' confidence in the safety of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine took a big dip this week after the pause in its use, per new YouGov polling, even though the risk of blood clots following the shot is extremely low, if it exists at all.

Why it matters: For the majority of people, particularly high-risk Americans, getting the J&J shot is almost certainly less dangerous than remaining vulnerable to the coronavirus.

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