WHAT PRICE HEALTH?

Some more ammunition for the argument that our health care expenditures are a tiger we’re holding by the tail, as summarized in a recent ACC News Digest:

The Los Angeles Times (9/9, Levey) reports, “Pushed by a dramatic increase in the number of Americans who will get insurance under the new healthcare law, total US medical spending will continue to gallop upward, consuming nearly 20% of the economy by 2019, according to a new government estimate.” Yet, “because new savings in the law offset most of the cost of extending insurance to more people, the nation’s total healthcare bill is not expected to be substantially larger than it would have been without the overhaul.” Said Andrea M. Sisko, “the lead author of the closely watched study by independent economists at” CMS, “It appears that the Affordable Care Act will have a moderate effect on health spending growth.”

Similarly, the Wall Street Journal (9/9, Adamy, subscription required) reports that health reform will not have significant impact on healthcare costs during the next 10 years, but quotes Sisko as saying, “The underlying impacts on coverage and financing are more pronounced.” The Journal adds that, according to the White House, the healthcare law will lower overall costs for insured Americans because they will no longer be subsidizing coverage for uninsured people.

The New York Times (9/9, A16, Pear) adds that the report “undermines the claims of the law’s fiercest critics and some of its biggest champions.” The report, being published online on Thursday in Health Affairs, also “foresees an abrupt increase in private health insurance spending” in 2014, and “predicts that some workers will have to pay more out of pocket as many employers scale back coverage in 2018 to avoid the tax on high-cost plans.” The AP (9/9, Alonso-Zaldivar), Reuters (9/9, Heavey), Kaiser Health News (9/9, Weaver), McClatchy (9/9, Pugh), and Modern Healthcare (9/9, subscription required) also cover the story.

Premiums are already starting to rise, but I’m predicting these gale force winds are only a harbinger of the hurricane that is to follow, unless a miracle occurs. That miracle will have to be a realignment of how we think about allocating our health care dollars and resources, in a substantive way. I’m sorry to say, I don’t see it on the horizon—yet. But all is not lost. Sometimes … okay, always … it takes being hit in the chest by a full-blown crisis to do what we need to do. I just hope we don’t get too badly mauled in the process.

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