Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rising Healthcare Costs: Delayed or Defeated?

Ready, set......
According to this just-published New England Journal article, analysts are still waiting for the twin forces of 1) an improving U.S. economy and 2) higher numbers of newly insured Americans to reignite healthcare inflation.  While the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) are conflicting, data from the early part of 2014 suggests that health costs are remaining tame.

What gives?
While many Obamacare supporters say this is more evidence of Washington's central-planning genius, author Charles Roehrig notes other factors be at play, namely:

1. The 9 million of 2014's newly insured amounts to 3% of the U.S. population. Their baseline spending was probably half of normal, so the resulting increase would expand the nation's spending by a modest additional 1.5%.  Since this group is younger, it'll likely be less than that.  Their contribution to increasing costs will be harder to detect.

2. What's more, insurance enrollments were finalized relatively late in the year, so these newly insured haven't had much of a chance to give their new benefits an early test-drive.

3. The first quarter of 2014 was an unusually cold winter. The Population Health Blog recalls how freezing temps, wind and snow made for a relaxed day at the clinic. Multiply that across millions of newly as well as long-term insured people, and it adds up.

4. Yes, stupid, it is the economy, which has a strong correlation with healthcare spending. Loss of health insurance thanks to unemployment, declining tax revenues that pressure government insurance programs to limit eligibility as well as benefits, employers' unwillingness to go along with otherwise automatic benefit increases and a general unwillingness of consumers to open their wallets in recessionary times has also added up.

5. Thanks to the expiration of some patents, prescription drug spending moderated.

Bottom line: all of the above are one-time impacts.  The economy's impact and new access to insurance are lasting fundamentals that will not go away. It's too soon to tell what is really going on.
The PHB will stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

Hi Jaan,
Hope all is well. Missing your posts!

Lisa Anderson said...

Nice post. Patient engagement is key to improving outcomes. This paper gives you the six key factors for success: