There are few things in life you can count on with unwavering certainty: death (unless you’re a Latin America dictator), taxes (except for Apple and Mitt Romney) and the secret service. Oh, wait a minute….well, there’s always those skyrocketing health costs….
But that’s not even a sure bet anymore. Based on numbers from the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services, during 2009 and 2010, the country’s total health care spending grew less than 4 percent annually. That’s the slowest rate in 50 years. And, as the New York Times reported, health care spending as a share of overall economic activity actually leveled off in 2010, hovering at just under 18 percent of the gross domestic product.
Before we look at this more closely, I don’t mind pointing out the deafening silence this story’s received. For all of the bad press health care gets in this country – no matter what the outlet – it’s a little surprising the networks aren’t all over this story. Aside from a pair of features in the Times, the media (mainstream or otherwise) has largely ignored this fresh batch of data, which should be front-page news if for no other reason than it’s something so different than what we’ve been reporting for years.
Most of the talking heads point at the economic downturn, arguing the recession hampered spending overall, even in the health care sector. I’m not so sure it deserves all that much credit. Besides, as the Times pointed out already, some of the states with the biggest spending slowdowns were ones not hit particularly hard by the economy.
Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself here or reading too much into an admittedly early trend, but maybe we’re actually becoming better health care consumers.
Between the rise in accountable care organizations and consumer-driven health care options (and education), it finally looks like we might be changing some long-standing (and suffering) behaviors.
From the provider’s standpoint, we’re focusing more on quality over quantity. From the consumer’s side of the equation, we’re becoming more savvy health care users. And a lot of that can be attributed to the explosion in high-deductible health plans. As brokers have been telling me for years now, a consumer with skin in the game – with an actual financial stake – invariably will make smarter health care decisions. In fact, one of the Times stories pointed to a RAND Corp. study that revealed spending by those in HDHPs fell 14 percent right out of the gate.
But let’s not start planning a trip to Bogata just yet. We’ve still got a long way to go and even with health care reform in the news almost every day now, an even longer educational curve to climb.
But this is a damn good sign that maybe, just maybe, people are finally getting it.