Private insurance plans paid hospitals on average 224% more compared with Medicare rates for both inpatient and outpatient services in 2020, a new study found.
Researchers at RAND Corporation looked at data from 4,000 hospitals in 49 states from 2018 to 2020. While the 224% increase in rates is high, it is a slight reduction from the 247% reported in 2018 in the last study RAND performed.
“This reduction is a result of a substantial increase in the volume of claims in the analysis from states with prices below the previous average price,” the study said.
The report showed that plans in certain states wound up paying hospitals more than others. It found that Florida, West Virginia and South Carolina had prices that were at or even higher than 310% of Medicare.
But other states like Hawaii, Arkansas and Washington paid less than 175% of Medicare rates.
“Employers can use this report to become better-informed purchasers of health benefits,” study lead author Christopher Waley said in a statement. “The work also highlights the levels and variation in hospital prices paid by employers and private insurers, and thus may help policymakers who may be looking for strategies to curb healthcare spending.”
The data come as the federal government has explored ways to lower healthcare costs, including going toe-to-toe with the hospital industry. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) has in recent years sought to cut payments to off-campus outpatient clinics in order to bring Medicare payments in line with payments paid to physicians' offices but has met with stiff legal and lobbying opposition from the hospital industry that argues the extra payments are needed.
CMS has also published regulations that call on hospitals to increase transparency of prices, including a rule that mandates hospitals publish online the prices for roughly 300 shoppable services.
The hospital industry pushed back against RAND's findings, arguing that the study is based on incomplete data. The industry group American Hospital Association said researchers only looked at 2.2% of overall hospital spending, a small portion of overall expenses.
"Researchers should expect variation in the cost of delivering services across the wide range of U.S. hospitals – from rural critical access hospitals to large academic medical centers," said AHA CEO Rick Pollack in a statement to Fierce Healthcare. "Tellingly, when RAND added more claims as compared to previous versions of this report, the average price for hospital services declined."