Hospital prices drop -- for the first time ever

Hospital prices apparently did something in the month of January they have never done before--go down.

The 0.1 percent drop in outpatient hospital prices was the first decrease since 1998, when the federal government began keeping tabs on what hospitals charged, according to Vox. Those same prices dropped 0.8 percent from December of last year to this January. The seasonally adjusted price drop was 1.3 percent.

"Health wonks typically get excited by something more modest: when healthcare prices rise more slowly than they used to," Vox observed. "But this new federal data (which is preliminary and could be revised) suggests something even more meaningful: not just slower growth in medical price tags from one year to the next, but an actual drop in how much care costs."

Producer Price Index data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics concluded that in January of this year, hospital inpatient prices also declined 0.3 percent from December 2014, without any seasonal adjustments factored in. With seasonal adjustments, the price declined 0.6 percent.

Vox also noted that per-person Medicare hospital spending has also decreased, from $4,999 in 2014 to a projected $4,893 this year.

Recently released data from the Altarum Institute indicated that hospital prices barely budged in 2014.

The combination of cuts in what Medicare will pay hospitals for care, along with narrow network health plans, may be placing the downward price pressures on hospitals, according to Vox.

Economist Paul Hughes-Cromwick called the phenomenon a"gigantic arm-wrestling contest" in which the "government and insurers are winning over the providers," according to Healthcare Dive.

Some insurers, such as WellPoint, have made a deliberate effort to cap charges paid to hospitals.

Hospital care was not the only healthcare commodity that experienced a price drop. Home health and hospice care also experienced a 0.9 percent price decrease between December 2014 and January of this month. The drop was the same whether adjusted seasonally or not.

To learn more:
- read the Vox article 
- check out the Healthcare Dive article 
- here's the Labor Statistics data

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