Nov 13, 2018

The Denver Post: Colorado hospitals charge insured patients significantly more than five other jurisdictions, survey finds

Colorado hospitals charge insured patients significantly more than five other jurisdictions, survey finds

The Denver Post
11/9/18

Colorado hospitals charge their insured patients significantly more for inpatient and outpatient care than hospitals in five other jurisdictions studied, a report released on Thursday found.

The analysis reviewed health care costs in Colorado, Minnesota, Utah, Oregon, Maryland and St. Louis. It found the price of inpatient care at Colorado hospitals in 2016 was 31 percent higher than the average for the six jurisdictions reviewed. The cost of outpatient care in Colorado that year was 15 percent higher than the average for all the jurisdictions.

The study was conducted by the Portland, Maine-based Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement.

“This year’s report shows that Colorado still has some significant cost-savings opportunities related to the price of health care services in our state,” said Ana English, the president and CEO of the Colorado-based Center for Improving Value in Health Care, a nonprofit that provided Colorado claims data for the study. “Many efforts are underway in Colorado to curb health care costs, and this new data shows that we need to accelerate those efforts in certain areas in order to make health care affordable for Coloradans.”

All of the jurisdictions analyzed for the study had robust regional health care collaborative entities in place with access to claims data. Those entities volunteered to participate. Since the inception of the project in 2013, 12 additional regions have agreed to contribute data for studies that were more limited in geographic scope, according to participants. The study released Thursday adjusted for differences in the underlying health status of the populations surveyed.

The release of the report Thursday follows recent concern expressed by key legislators and officials at the Colorado Department of Health Care Policy and Financing over what Colorado hospitals are charging and how rapidly they are building. HCPF officials have pointed out that from 2009 through 2016, capital expenditures for the hospital industry in Colorado were higher than all states but Alaska. Kim Bimestefer, executive director of HCPF, which oversees the state’s Medicaid program, has challenged hospitals to reduce their pace of construction, saying it is unnecessarily duplicating services and driving up prices.

The Colorado Hospital Association has pushed back. Hospitals are building in areas where rapid population growth will demand services, association officials say. Hospital executives add that they must build to a level that will take into account emergencies, such as a flu epidemic.

Colorado Hospital Association officials were quick to question the results of the pricing study, pointing out that one of the jurisdictions in the analysis, Maryland, restricts hospitals to charging a set price for both Medicare patients and the privately insured. Since Colorado doesn’t have the same system as Maryland, “dramatic price differences” occur, said Julie Lonborg, spokeswoman for the association.

“This is an apples-to-oranges analysis at best and is based on a small number of handpicked states,” Lonborg added. “While there may be lessons within the analysis, the limited data set does not put Colorado’s health spending in context.”

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