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Data: Sun, Mello, Moshfegh and Baker, 2019; Chart: Harry Stevens/Axios

Surprise medical bills have gotten more common and more expensive, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Why it matters: These bills can be devastating to patients, even those who have some savings and a steady source of income.

The big picture: The study used an Optum database to look at patients covered by a large commercial insurer who received either inpatient or emergency care at hospitals covered by their insurance, and got a bill for out-of-network care.

  • These bills were probably unexpected. Patients often assume that the care they receive at an in-network hospital will all be covered by their insurer.

Yes, but: Most hospitals don't produce out-of-network bills this often. The results are skewed by serial offenders.

What we're watching: Congress has vowed to prohibit surprise medical bills, but its leading approach is under attack from hospital and doctors' groups.

California's law, which mirrored the approach pending in Congress, shifted contract negotiations in insurers' favor, according to a study in the American Journal of Managed Care.

  • This has led to even more provider consolidation, the study found.

Go deeper: We all pay for surprise emergency room bills

Go deeper

Oct 15, 2020 - Health

Outpatient visits bounce back

Reproduced from The Commonwealth Fund; Chart: Axios Visuals

Outpatient visits have returned to their pre-pandemic levels after declining by nearly 60%, according to a new analysis by the Commonwealth Fund.

Why it matters: The massive drop-off in people seeking medical care was bad both for providers and for patients, many of whom delayed care for conditions that may have worsened.

Oct 15, 2020 - Health

UnitedHealth's profit declines as more people see doctors

A health care worker prepares to care for a coronavirus patient in a hospital ICU. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

UnitedHealth Group's profit in the third quarter dipped 10% as people sought health care at rates "more closely approaching normal," executives said on an earnings call today.

Yes, but: UnitedHealth's quarterly earnings still hit $3.2 billion, and even though the health insurance division is paying more in medical claims, more people also are going to doctors' practices, urgent care facilities and surgery centers owned by UnitedHealth.

The future of retail: more self-service

Zliide makes a tag that attaches to clothing for self-checkout in retail stores. Photo: Jennifer A. Kingson/Axios.

Self-checkout, self-service, autonomous stores, DIY: The retail world is prepping for a future with fewer human workers and more technology involved in selling us stuff.

Why it matters: While 72% of retail sales are still expected to take place in brick-and-mortar stores in 2024, merchants are busy installing interactive signage, smart price tags, and remote checkout systems that point to a very different customer experience.