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‘It’s the Prices, Stupid’: How sky-high prices are crippling our health care system

The numbers are eye-popping: $25,000 MRIs, the $1,000-a-day hepatitis B drug, $629 for an ER visit that only delivered a Band-Aid. As leading health care economists bluntly put it in a famous research paper, “It’s the prices stupid.” Experts increasingly point to the high cost of care in America — not necessarily the overuse of care — as the chronic illness of the U.S. system. Health systems in other developed countries pay nowhere near these prices for the same services. And while the Affordable Care Act changed who pays for health care, it has done little to curb rising costs. Recent Republican replacement plans didn’t tackle prices either. For reporters and patients, getting at the issues can be challenging in a world where pricing is often opaque — or deliberately kept secret. This webinar will offer an overview of our health system’s Achilles’ heel, and provide journalists with one ace health reporter’s toolkit for covering the issue in their community — including strategies, data sources and crowdsourcing tips.

WHEN: Dec. 6, from 10-11 a.m. PT / 1-2 p.m. ET

TO REGISTER: Click here.

Our panelists will include:

Sarah Kliff is a senior policy correspondent at and one of the country’s leading health policy journalists. Kliff has spent seven years chronicling Washington’s battle over the Affordable Care Act. She recently launched a new effort at Vox to bring more transparency to medical pricing by gathering and reporting on readers’ emergency room bills. Kliff also hosts Vox's The Impact, a podcast about how policy effects real people, and she co-hosts The Weeds podcast with Ezra Klein and Matt Ygelsias. Prior to joining Vox, Sarah covered health policy for the Washington Post, where she was a founding writer at Wonkblog. She has also covered health policy for Politico and Newsweek magazine.

Niall Brennan is the president and executive director of the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit that gathers health care cost and utilization data from private insurers. Brennan is a nationally recognized expert in health care policy, the use of health care data to enable and accelerate health system change, and data transparency. Prior to joining HCCI, Brennan was chief data officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Brennan has also worked at the Brookings Institution, the Medicare Payment Advisory Commission, the Congressional Budget Office, the Urban Institute, and Price WaterhouseCoopers. Brennan holds degrees from Georgetown University and University College Dublin, Ireland.

Webinars are free and made possible by the National Institute for Health Care Management Foundation.

Presenters' slides:

Sarah Kliff:

Niall Brennan:

Reading list

The problem is the prices: Opaque and sky high bills are breaking Americans — and our health care system,” by Sarah Kliff,

Emergency rooms are monopolies. Patients pay the price,” by Sarah Kliff, Vox, Dec. 4, 2017

A Band-Aid, a $629 ER bill, and a hard truth about American health care,” by Sarah Kliff,

What Uwe Reinhardt taught me about health care,” by Sarah Kliff,

Paying Till It Hurts,” by Elisabeth Rosenthal, The New York Times 

U.S. Health Care Prices Are the Elephant in the Room,” by Uwe E. Reinhardt, The New York Times 

A Hospital Charged $1,877 to Pierce a 5-Year-Old’s Ears. This Is Why Health Care Costs So Much.” By Marshall Allen, ProPublica


DATASET: “ER spending increased 85%, driven by price increases for the most severe cases (2009-2015),” by Kevin Kennedy, John Hargraves, Health Care Cost Institute

It’s The Prices, Stupid: Why The United States Is So Different From Other Countries,” Gerard F. Anderson, Uwe E. Reinhardt, Peter S. Hussey, and Varduhi Petrosyan, Health Affairs (2003)

Factors Associated With Increases in US Health Care Spending, 1996-2013,” by Joseph L. Dieleman, PhD, et al. JAMA, Nov. 7, 2017

Price of insulin prescription doubled between 2012 and 2016,” by Amanda Frost, John Hargraves, Health Care Cost Institute

Health Care Pricing Project


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