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Health Care Price Transparency, COVID-19 Vaccinations, Gun Laws: RAND Weekly Recap

September 25, 2020

We discuss how much more private health plans pay hospitals compared to what Medicare pays; revealing data about the global spread of COVID-19; potential obstacles to COVID-19 vaccination; the digital learning divide; three firearm restrictions that could reduce gun deaths; and how mobile technology can help people experiencing homelessness.

Exterior of a hospital building reflecting the sky off its glass, photo by Arkadiusz Wargula/Getty Images

Photo by Arkadiusz Warguła/Getty Images

Private Health Plans Pay Hospitals 2.5 Times What Medicare Would Pay

Private health plans in the United States pay hospitals an average of 247 percent of what Medicare would pay for the same services at the same facilities. That's according to a new RAND analysis.

The findings reveal wide variation in pricing among states. For example, Arkansas, Michigan, and Rhode Island had relative prices under 200 percent of what Medicare would have paid. But prices in other states—such as Florida, West Virginia, and South Carolina—were more than 325 percent of Medicare costs.

The study draws on data from more than half of America's community hospitals, providing the most detailed picture to date of what privately insured individuals pay for hospital services relative to what the government pays for those who are insured through Medicare. This level of price transparency is even more relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Passengers on a flight, photo by vovashevchuk/Getty Images

Photo by vovashevchuk/Getty Images

When COVID-19's Global Spread Really Began

February 19th. That's when the global spread of COVID-19 began increasing at an accelerating rate, according to a new RAND report. The date is exactly three weeks before the World Health Organization's pandemic declaration. By the end of February, more than five cases of COVID-19 per day were already being exported around the world. This is the latest insight from a RAND project that analyzes COVID-19 infections and air travel data to predict the spread of the virus.

Bottles containing a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, photo by Max Rode/Adobe Stock

Photo by Max Rode/Adobe Stock

Potential Obstacles to COVID-19 Vaccination

Developing a safe and effective vaccine is only one part of a successful immunization campaign to stop the pandemic. In a new paper, RAND researchers examine two less obvious challenges. First, concerns among manufacturers and distributors about their legal liability for any adverse effects could inhibit global distribution. Second, if individuals are worried about not being compensated in the event that they incur health problems from a vaccine, then this could affect public willingness to be inoculated.

Boston Public School teacher Princess Bryant teaches her kindergarten class via video-conference from her apartment after schools were closed for the remainder of the school year because of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., April 28, 2020, photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

Boston Public School teacher Princess Bryant instructs her kindergarten class via video-conference from her apartment, Boston, Massachusetts, April 28, 2020

Photo by Brian Snyder/Reuters

The Pandemic and the Digital Divide

In May and June, RAND surveyed U.S. teachers about their students' internet access at home. Half said that all or nearly all of their students had access. But this response was much less common among teachers in towns and rural areas, in schools that serve more students of color, and in high-poverty schools. To address this issue, policymakers should consider ways to bring internet access and devices to every household during this challenging school year. Some states must take urgent action to help students in high-poverty schools—otherwise, existing inequities will only get worse.

Gun in open lock box, photo by victorass88/Getty Images

Photo by victorass88/Getty Images

Three Firearm Restrictions That Could Help Reduce Gun Deaths

Nearly 40,000 Americans died from gun-related injuries in 2017—more than any other year on record. To better understand what policies could help save lives, RAND researchers evaluated three common laws that focus on how people use, carry, and store firearms: child-access-prevention laws, right-to-carry laws, and stand-your-ground laws. The findings suggest that if states put the most restrictive combination of these policies into effect, they could see a small but meaningful reduction in firearm deaths.

A woman uses a cell phone on downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row, March 6, 2013, photo  by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

A woman uses a cell phone on downtown Los Angeles' Skid Row, March 6, 2013

Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

How Access to Mobile Technology Can Help Those Experiencing Homelessness

Those experiencing homelessness rely on cell phones the way everyone else does—to stay connected to family, friends, and the world. But they also use devices to find food and shelter, access social services, and navigate public transit. What could be done to improve mobile connectivity for this group? According to RAND's Sarah Hunter and Rajeev Ramchand, and Benjamin Henwood of USC, providing free public Wi-Fi and device charging may increase access to services like health care and employment. This could lead to better quality of life for society's most vulnerable.

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