Current Weather
The Spy FM

Health Think Tank Crunches Health Prices For The Masses

Filed by KOSU News in Health.
May 21, 2012

It turns out we may not know nearly as much about all the money spent on health care in the U.S. as we thought we did.

But there’s a new group that wants to, well, remedy that.

The problem, Martin Gaynor, chairman of the Health Care Cost Institute, told Shots, is that “two-thirds of the population has private (health) insurance, but most of the information comes from Medicare.”

That’s because Medicare, being government run, is the only large insurer whose claims information has been available for academics to crunch. In fact, it’s been the detailed analysis of Medicare data that’s has allowed the Dartmouth Atlas to show the wide variations in health care across the U.S.

Still, many have worried that what happens to people age 65 and over may not necessarily be reflect what’s happening to everyone else.

So Gaynor, who’s also a professor of economics and health policy at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, along with a small group of academics, persuaded four of the nation’s largest private health insurers – Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare and Kaiser-Permanente – to give them access to information what the insurers paid for care given to some 40 million people. (Personal information has been removed from the database.)

“That’s 40 percent of the privately-insured population in the U.S.,” Gaynor said.

The group’s first study, which examines spending and use trends in 2010 in the under 65 population, is already finding trends that would be hard to discern from Medicare data.

The first big take-home message, said Gaynor, is that while spending went up relatively slowly — about 3.3 percent — the biggest factor was an increase “prices to providers.” In other words, people didn’t get more care, but they and their insurers paid more for the care they got. That also showed up in the fact that individuals’ out-of-pocket spending grew slightly.

Prices rose for both inpatient and outpatient surgical procedures; for emergency room visits, and for brand-name prescription drugs from 2009 to 2010. Generic drugs were about the only category for which prices fell, 6.3 percent.

Some analysts, like Aaron Carroll, are already using the new numbers to worry about potentially ominous trends in the health care system.

Another of the more provocative findings in the study is that spending rose fastest — 4.5 percent — for the 18 and under age group, something you’d never find in Medicare data. That rise compares to 3.1 percent for those aged 55-64 and 2.3 percent for those age 19-44.

Why? Gaynor says an answer will take more research.

And HCCI says it will be happy to share what it expects to be a twice-a-year data dump with others academics and nonprofit research outfits. “Our goal is to create a data resource,” he says. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

Leave a Reply

5AM to 9AM Morning Edition

Morning Edition

For more than two decades, NPR's Morning Edition has prepared listeners for the day ahead with two hours of up-to-the-minute news, background analysis, commentary, and coverage of arts and sports.

Listen Live Now!

9AM to 10AM The Takeaway

The Takeaway

A fresh alternative in morning news, "The Takeaway" provides a breadth and depth of world, national and regional news coverage that is unprecedented in public media.

View the program guide!

10AM to 11PM On Point

On Point

On Point unites distinct and provocative voices with passionate discussion as it confronts the stories that are at the center of what is important in the world today. Leaving no perspective unchallenged, On Point digs past the surface and into the core of a subject, exposing each of its real world implications.

View the program guide!

Upcoming Events in your area (Submit your event today!)

Streaming audio and podcasts

Stream KOSU on your smartphone

Phone Streaming

SmartPhone listening options on this page are intended for many iPhones, Blackberries, etc. with low-cost software applications available to listen to our full-time web streams, both News on KOSU-1 and Classical on KOSU-2.

Learn more about our complete range of streaming services

We're perfecting the patient experience - Stillwater Medical Center