The New York Times is reporting that the growth of health spending has slowed substantially in the last few years, surprising experts and offering some fuel for optimism about the federal government’s long-term fiscal performance.
Much of the slowdown is because of the recession, and thus not unexpected, health experts say. But some of it seems to be attributable to changing behavior by consumers and providers of health care – meaning that the lower rates of growth might persist even as the economy picks up.
Because Medicare and Medicaid are two of the largest contributors to the country’s long-term debts, slower growth in health costs could reduce the pressure for enormous spending cuts or tax increases.
In 2009 and 2010, total nationwide health care spending grew less than 4 percent per year, the slowest annual pace in more than five decades, according to the latest numbers from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services. After years of taking up a growing share of economic activity, health spending held steady in 2010, at 17.9 percent of the gross domestic product.
The growth rate mostly slowed as millions of Americans lost insurance coverage along with their jobs. Worried about job security, others may have feared taking time off work for doctor’s visits or surgical procedures, or skipped nonurgent care when money was tight.
Still, the slowdown was sharper than health economists expected, and a broad, bipartisan range of academics, hospital administrators and policy experts has started to wonder if what had seemed impossible might be happening – if doctors and patients have begun to change their behavior in ways that bend the so-called cost curve.
If so, it was happening just as the new health care law was coming into force, and before the Supreme Court could weigh in on it or the voters could pronounce their own verdict at the polls.
Source: The New York Times