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Health Care Costs Vary Throughout Kentucky, Less Expensive Than National Average

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A new report details the differences in health care costs and patient usages in metro areas across the country. And Kentucky fares fairly well.

Researchers at the Health Care Cost Institute found average prices for inpatient services in Louisville are 24 percent less than a national sample. In Lexington, medical services are 17 percent cheaper.

Meanwhile, outpatient prices in Louisville and Lexington are lower than the national average.

In the Cincinnati area, outpatient prices are 10 percent below the national average, while the inpatient prices were about the same as those nationally.

The findings were published this week in the institute's 2015 Healthy Marketplace Index Report.

Eric Barrette, director of research at HCCI, said the report looked at 41 metro areas across the country and relied on information from employer-sponsored health care plans from 2011 to 2013. He said a lot of recent research has been conducted on costs related to Medicaid and Medicare, but not as much has been published on private insurance.

"Some of our metrics have demonstrated that even within the private insurance market, there's differences between price levels and mix of utilization -- even within the same area between inpatient services and outpatient services, " he said.

When it comes to utilization, or how often medical services are used by patients, Louisville and Lexington have slightly higher than average figures.

"For Louisville, there's higher utilization of more expensive services. So, even though prices are on average lower, it appears that people are using more of the higher-priced services relative to everyone else," Barrette said.

He said there is marked variation among Louisville, Lexington and Cincinnati.

"There may be a few hours drive between any of them, but we went from the average to potentially 24 percent lower price levels, and that's a big discrepancy just within the Kentucky area," Barrette said.

But the amount of services used and prices are not always related.

"Health care markets are very complex. They differ across the country, they differ within states, they differ even within the same markets," he said.