A forecast released Tuesday said the growth rate for U.S. health spending of all types would stay historically low the next two years. But it would increase if most of the federal health-care overhaul takes effect in 2014. After that, the rate would drop, but spending still would grow at a higher rate than that of the past few years, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
The article (and report it analyzes) attributes what is projected to be about six years of record low growth in healthcare costs largely to a soft economy. It then predicts a short spike due primarily to people who couldn’t afford care now getting it. That’s okay. The big concern isn’t the number of people covered—it’s the cost per person covered.
After that, the expected increase is 6.2% per year, which is down from the pre-ACA rate of increase. (Source.) While the drop down to 6.2% isn’t huge, it doesn’t need to be. It gets us (very roughly) half the way from where we were to where we need to be to have health care cost increases at or lower than growth. These projections suggest the ACA helped by lowering costs while expanding accessibility—but only got us half as far as we need to go.
Of course, I’ve got some unrefrigerated produce I expect to keep longer than these projections—so don’t put too much weight on them. There are are too many variables to take them seriously. The data for the post ACA years is really good, but there’s not much of it and some of that goodness might be attributable to the recession. Of course, cost savings habits adopted during the recession may last. And everybody is trying to get medical costs down. So who knows whether the projections will do anything.
(Also, I’m sorry. That’s a really boring, technical post. But the medical cost curve is one of the more politically important bits of data. If we can bend it down, we can keep a lot of the nice things we like. If not, we’re in for a really rough future.)