5 Things to Read on Health Care Costs

In this week’s roundup we have two takes on why Americans spend so much on health care, as well as what employers and states are trying to do to keep costs down.

We’re not seeing the doctor too often — just paying too much for it

America’s health care system has higher hospitalization and doctor visit prices and higher administrative costs than care systems in other countries, new research found. Those factors — not overuse of care — were the main  reasons care is so much more expensive in the U.S. than abroad. “It’s not that we’re buying more pizzas, we’re just paying more for each pie,” the lead researcher told The New York Times’ Upshot blog.

Americans prefer costly specialist visits

Spending on primary care dropped 6 percent between 2012 and 2016, while per person spending on drugs, specialists and lab tests all grew. This shift toward seeing specialists “will … increase the overall costs of health care services, with no commensurate increase in population health and quite likely a diminishment,” according to a Health Affairs blog post dissecting data from the Health Care Cost Institute.

Six states try to tackle surprise billing

So far this year, six states — Colorado, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Oregon, Virginia and Washington — made some attempt to prohibit balance billing. However, only Oregon’s bill has become law. In general, balance billing is when an out-of-network medical provider bills a patient for the difference between the charged amount and what the insurer pays. In many cases, the patients aren’t even aware they’ve received care from an out-of-network provider. Read the breakdown from Becker’s Hospital Review, and check out this MHCSW story on which states already protect patients from surprise bills.

Improving care access raises costs in short-term — and may be worth it in the long run

Research published by the Cato Institute shows health care costs increase when people who hadn’t previously had access to care start going to the doctor, which surprised some experts. “We were expecting to see a relationship with primary care and driving cost down, however it just may take longer,” the paper’s lead author told Modern Healthcare. The research also didn’t factor in how care access affected outcomes. Read more from Modern Healthcare.

Companies urge employees: Get a second opinion

It’s becoming increasingly common for employers to offer a second-opinion service to employees as a way to avoid costly misdiagnoses or unnecessary care. According to a survey by the National Business Group on Health, 66 percent of employers offer this type of service to employees, up from 47 percent last year.  Read more from HR Drive.

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health care system work better?

Interested in ways we can make the health care system work better?