Health costs have grown steadily with inflation: report

On the heels of price transparency legislation gaining momentum in Congress, software platform Turquoise Health today revealed data showing health costs did not grow faster than the rate of inflation this year.

The report was compiled using the list of CMS’ 500 shoppable services, an index of monthly price changes by four national payers at major hospitals including UnitedHealthcare, Cigna, Aetna and Blue Cross Blue Shield insurers.

Through the end of the third quarter, there was a 2% increase in negotiated rates, or prices, of all 500 shoppable services, in line with the 1.9% U.S. inflation measured by the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index and below the overall U.S. inflation rate determined by the Consumer Price Index. However, there is price variation among individual services.

“We see the largest price increases in areas like Chickenpox and Measles vaccines," the report said. “On the deflationary side, off-hours medical services, allergy tests and vaginal delivery of placentas have seen the largest price drops.”

Large discrepancies for the same care were shown to exist in different cities and within the same markets, Turquoise experts said.

Now that price differences are more readily obvious and available, it’s possible price ranges will decrease.

In Los Angeles, the rate an insurer could agree to reimburse the provider ranges anywhere from $1,183 to $32,563 for vaginal delivery with post-delivery care. Even in other cities like Boston, the negotiated rate range is $1,050 to $3,596. Patients then pay a proportion of this price based on their insurance coverage and the cost-sharing rate.

Negotiated drug rates, representing what the payer has agreed to reimburse providers for administering a medication at a hospital, is also included in the CMS list of 500 shoppable services. For the drug Infliximab, which treats conditions like rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and plaque psoriasis, its reimbursement rate decreased 3.3% across 144,978 rate changes nationwide.