Remember when ObamaCare was going to save the country a lot of money? Health care spending is about to accelerate over the next decade thanks in big part to ObamaCare.
That is according to a new Health and Human Services (HHS) report, which flies in the face of President Obama’s boast that his signature health care law slows the growth of healthcare costs nationwide.
We were led to believe that the expansion of coverage under Obamacare would not add to the cost. It was not reasonable but some supporters of ObamaCare bought it. Now we know: Domestic healthcare spending is projected to have hit $3.1 trillion last year – a 5.5 percent increase. This is the highest it’s been since 2007 – the year before President Obama’s first election. The rise was exacerbated by drug costs as prescription drug costs ballooned by 12.6 percent last year.
Spending is expected to be slightly lower at 5.3 percent and then shoot up again to an average of 5.8 percent through 2024 as the population continues to age, and more American get enrolled in Medicare, and the economy supposedly improves.
In addition, the health share of US gross domestic product is projected to rise from 17.4 percent in 2013 to 19.6 percent in 2024.
These trends are in contrast to the declining health costs that began with the recession and continued through the weak recovery through 2013. Healthcare spending costs remained at near historic lows. However that’s about to be over as the report concludes:
… a closer look at the recent period suggests that some factors in these years (the impacts of slow income growth, loss of insurance coverage, slow economywide and health-specific price growth, and increases in generic drug dispensing) are not likely to persist, whereas others (such as the increased prevalence of insurance plans with greater costsharing requirements and various legislative impacts on Medicare payment updates) are likely to have more lasting effects. In the projection period, a number of factors are expected to contribute to faster spending growth, including coverage expansions from the ACA, faster growth in medical care use as a result of improved economic conditions and population aging, and faster economywide and medical price increases in the face of rising wages.
Ultimately, these longer-lasting factors result in relatively modest projected health spending growth over the next decade, averaging close to 6 percent per year (compared to the average annual growth of about 9 percent over the three decades prior to the recession), even during a period when the uninsured population is expected to decline by almost eighteen million.
This runs contrary to what the President and the Administration have been touting. While over the past few years healthcare costs have slowed, as we’ve pointed out, the President shouldn’t be so quick to pat himself on the back unless he’s taking credit for a struggling economy.
As the economy continues to improve more factors are coming to light and the shine is wearing off and many are questioning whether the even moderated costs are sustainable over the long term.
The projected health care cost increases over the next decade would exceed growth in the gross domestic product by 1.1 percent. As a result, the share of the economy devoted to health care will increase from 17.4 percent today to 19.6 percent in 2024.
Those are the numbers that deserve the most attention in thinking about long-term health care spending and whether the country is on a sustainable course, said Tom Getzen, executive director of the International Health Economics Association.
“Is what we’re paying for health insurance premiums going to go up faster than wages? That’s really the problem,” said Getzen, who recently wrote an analysis of CMS spending projections. “Every forecaster I know says eventually that excess has to stop.”
The historic slowdown in health care spending in recent years — between 2008 and 2013, costs increased by an average of 4 percent annually — has fueled a debate over how much of the reduced growth can be attributed to the recession and its aftershocks and how much to the Affordable Care Act.
Joseph Antos, a health care finance expert at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, says it’s still too early to draw any definitive conclusions. He points out that most of the spending reductions associated with the ACA are from cuts in payments to providers and insurers rather than from the Obama administration’s much-touted payment reform initiatives.
“The administration’s priority was to expand coverage first,” Antos said. “Now we have to do something about spending.”
We’re left with a heightened sense of uncertainty about what will happen for healthcare costs in the future, but the prospect of them occupying a fifth of our GDP is frightening. (It was a sixth of the economy when ObamaCare was passed.) As with other unfunded liabilities, who will pay for this?
When we consider that the workforce participation percentage for American workers continues to drop, leaving millions out of the workforce, and wages remain relatively flat, the prospects of a labor force able to pay for higher healthcare costs and entitlements costs leave us with more fear than hope.