Insurers say hospitals, not doctors, to blame for bulk of price increases

turn your head and cough
(Sunrise Hospital promotional photo.)
turn your head and cough
(Sunrise Hospital promotional photo.)

Inpatient hospital billings for privately insured patients in America increased 19 percent between 2013 and 2017, or 4.5 percent a year, according to a new report from UnitedHealth Group, one of the nation’s largest health insurers. 

By contrast, physician billings increased by ten percent during the same time, says the report. 

Hospital utilization dropped five percent during that period. 

Privately insured patients were billed $200 billion by hospitals in 2018 and that number is expected to exceed $350 billion in 2029.  Patients could save $250 billion if hospitals reduce their prices by 2 percent a year, the report says. 

Inpatient spending growth is influenced by hospital prices, physician prices and patient utilization, according to the report. 

“Slowing the growth of hospital inpatient costs – by reducing hospital price increases to the level of physician price increases – would make healthcare more affordable for consumers and employers,” says the study. 

Mergers and acquisitions, which decrease hospital operating costs between 15 and 30 percent, according to the National Council on Compensation Insurance, increase the average price of hospital services by six to 18 percent. 

Healthcare consolidation reached a record 115 transactions in 2017, only to be eclipsed by a 14.4 percent increase in 2018 mergers and acquisitions, according to consulting firm Kaufman Hall.

Prices rise even as operating costs go down because consolidation makes reimbursement rate negotiation with hospital corporations a greater challenge, according to private insurers. 

In Southern Nevada, two companies own the majority of hospitals.

United Health Services owns Valley, Desert Springs, Centennial Hills, Spring Valley, Summerlin and Henderson Hospitals. 

HCA Healthcare owns Sunrise, Sunrise Children’s, Southern Hills and MountainView Hospitals. 

Dana Gentry
Reporter | Dana Gentry is a native Las Vegan and award-winning investigative journalist. She is a graduate of Bishop Gorman High School and holds a Bachelor's degree in Communications from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Gentry began her career in broadcasting as an intern at Channel 8, KLAS-TV. She later became a reporter at Channel 8, working with Las Vegas TV news legends Bob Stoldal and the late Ned Day. Gentry left her reporting job in 1985 to focus on motherhood. She returned to TV news in 2001 to launch "Face to Face with Jon Ralston" and the weekly business programs In Business Las Vegas and Vegas Inc, which she co-anchored with Jeff Gillan. Dana is the mother of four adult children, three cats, three dogs and a cockatoo.

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