Each time I send out the THCB Reader, our newsletter that summarizes the best of THCB (Sign up here!) I include a brief tidbits section. Then I had the brainwave to add them to the blog. They’re short and usually not too sweet! –Matthew Holt
It’s no secret that health care pricing has been out of whack for a very long time. This past week PBMs and pharma manufacturers were in front of congressional committees trying to defend the indefensible–how much drugs cost and why? Hospitals have been required to publish their fictional price lists (their chargemasters) for a few years now and more recently have been instructed to reveal what they actually get from health plans for specific procedures. You would assume that this would move overall pricing pressure down to the “best price” but that effect seems to not be happening. At least not yet. This week also did see the bankruptcy of PE-backed (or should that be PE-toppled) emergency staffing corporation Envision. But that was more because its business model depended on surprise billing and not being in insurer networks.
More typical is the recent dispute in which primary & urgent care chain Carbon Health went public with its fight against Elevance subsidiary Anthem Blue Cross in California. While it was in-network Carbon claims that it received less than Medicare rates from Anthem, while its large delivery system competitors were getting 2-4 times Medicare rates.
This sounds about right to me. Late last year I had two identical telemedicine visits for back pain with specialists. One in a private practice, another with a doctor from UCSF–my local academic medical center. Before you troll me, they were both offered to me last minute, I didn’t know which doctor would be available if I needed a procedure, and it’s always good to get a second opinion. Plus I had blown through my deductible by then so they were free to me!
My insurer paid $795 to UCSF and $219 to the private doctor. So for exactly the same thing one provider got more than 3&½ times what the other did.
There’s still lots of chatter about the growth of value-based care, but even within Medicare Advantage there’s lots of fee-for-service, and it even pops up in places it’s supposed to be dead-–like Geisinger. We are nearly 20 years on from the Bush Administration talking about transparency as the solution to health care costs yet the opacity and confusion around pricing is as bad as it’s ever been. Yes, we know some of the numbers, but the US is a long way from seeing the invisible hand working its magic and making the same thing cost the same amount across health care. The only place where that happens is under the neo-Stalinist central pricing of Medicare. Not that that seems to work well either.
There’ll be a couple more years while the “new” transparent plays out in the market, but don’t expect too much of a revolution. Then likely we’ll try something else.