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Data: Center on Health Insurance Reforms report; Chart: Axios Visuals

If anyone's incentivized to drive down hospital costs, it's state employee health plans. But that's often not where they're focused, per a new study by Georgetown's Center on Health Insurance Reforms.

Why it matters: Hospital prices are cited most frequently by state plans as their top cost driver, but they're more likely to target other forms of health care spending when it comes to curbing costs.

The big picture: State employee health plans are often the largest employer purchasing insurance in their state, so in theory, should have significant clout when negotiating prices.

  • But plan administrators say it's hard to go after these prices because of a lack of competition between hospitals, hospitals' political clout, and employee pressure to keep broad provider networks.
  • Among the top five cost containment measures reported by states, only one — using "centers of excellence" — could potentially impact hospital pricing.
  • Many plans "focus instead on constraining enrollees’ use of health care services through deductibles and other benefit design strategies," per the report.

Yes, but: There are some states attempting to reign in hospital and physician prices.

  • For example, ten states reported using measures to steer employees toward lower-cost providers, 14 have directly negotiated with providers, and 7 states have or are pursuing initiatives that would set rates or use reference prices.
  • Montana's state employee health plan has pegged hospital prices to Medicare rates and saved the state $47.8 million over three years.

Go deeper

Sep 17, 2021 - Health

HHS issues new protections for Texas abortion providers, patients

Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. Photo: Kevin Dietsch via Getty Images

The Biden administration's latest move to bolster support for abortion providers and patients in Texas include funding for clinics, protections for health care workers and reinforcement of legal statutes specific to pregnant people, Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced Friday.

Why it matters: The Biden administration has vowed to fight Texas' new abortion law, the U.S.'s most restrictive since 1973, on multiple fronts.

Updated 1 hour ago - Science

Huge wildfire reaches edge of Sequoia National Park

A plume of smoke and flames rise into the air as the fire burns towards Moro Rock during the KNP Complex fire in the Sequoia National Park near Three Rivers, California, on Saturday. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

Firefighters in Sequoia National Park were working into the night after two wildfires merged to reach the Giant Forest Saturday.

Why it matters: This forest contains over 2,000 giant sequoias, including the General Sherman Tree — the world's largest tree by volume. Park officials wrapped the redwoods in foil last week as the Paradise and Colony Fires, now known as the KNP Complex Fire, neared. Protection efforts appeared to be working overnight.

2 hours ago - World

Hong Kong holds first "patriots only" elections

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam during a news conference last Monday. Photo: Lui Siu Wai/Xinhua via Getty Images

Hong Kong's elections to choose the city's Election Committee members opened to a select group of voters on Sunday, under a new "patriots only" system imposed by China's government.

Why it matters: All candidates running to be members of the electoral college have been "vetted" by Beijing, per Reuters. They will go on to choose the Asian financial hub's next leader, approved by China's government, and some of its legislature.