Good morning ... Vitals has largely been a Kavanaugh-free zone lately, because the health care implications of his nomination really haven't changed since the beginning.
But my colleague Kim Hart has written a deep, probing piece about the conversation all of this has started — a conversation that's bigger than the politics of this moment. Bigger than 2018, bigger than 2020, probably even bigger than a lifetime seat on the Supreme Court. It's good and worthy and I hope you'll read it.
One reason surprise medical bills are going up: Coverage for out-of-network care is going down, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Why it matters: The burgeoning controversy over surprise hospital bills stems partly (though not exclusively) from the bills patients receive when they’re treated by an out-of-network provider — even without their knowledge, often within an in-network facility.
The prices of hospital procedures, doctor visits and prescriptions are a lot higher in the U.S. than other high-income countries, and a new Health Affairs study shows that holds true for medical devices, too.
By the numbers: Roughly 6% of U.S. health care spending goes toward medical devices, or about $200 billion annually, my colleague Bob Herman notes.
Between the lines: Prices likely differed based on a country’s tech-based regulation, but also on how much market power medical device companies had.
“Variation within countries suggests that manufacturers exploit varying levels of willingness-to-pay and bargaining power between buyers to charge different prices across hospitals and increase profits,” the researchers wrote.
Data from a murder victim's Fitbit helped police substantiate charges against her suspected killer — the latest intersection between personal health care tech and law enforcement.
The details, as reported by the New York Times:
Photo: Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Massachusetts is providing naloxone — the drug used to revive people who have overdosed on opioids — to a handful of large employers in the state. And it could ultimately give the drug to every employer it covers, Modern Healthcare reports.
“Before launching the pilot, Blue Cross conducted 507 interviews with consumers, half of whom had personal experiences with opioid addiction through family members or friends," Modern Healthcare writes. “The interviews yielded tips such as keeping the kits small — the size of a makeup kit rather than a toolbox. People also indicated they wanted the kits to include gloves.”
Go deeper: Service workers are on the front lines of the opioid crisis.
Did you know there are privately administered insurance exchanges, similar to the Affordable Care Act’s, for large employers? If not, it may be because they are deeply unpopular.
Driving the news: A mere 5% of employers with at least 50 employees and a health plan take advantage of a private exchange, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation's annual survey of employer coverage.
Between the lines: Employers are confident they can get a better deal by negotiating directly than by shopping on a pre-established market.
Flashback: Back in 2015, Accenture estimated that 40 million Americans would be covered through private exchanges this year.