January 6

US marks 4 straight years of slowing health costs

In a rarity, the U.S. economy grew faster in 2011 and 2012 than did national health care spending.

The Associated Press

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Spending on prescription drugs barely increased, reflecting an unusual circumstance in which patent protection expired for major drugs like Lipitor, Plavix and Singulair. Generic drugs accounted for an ever-increasing share of prescriptions.

Medicare spending grew more slowly, reflecting a one-time cut in payments to nursing homes and some of the spending reductions in Obama’s health care law. Spending per Medicare recipient grew by 0.7 percent in 2012, down from 2.5 percent in 2011.

Spending for private insurance also grew more slowly, reflecting the shift to high-deductible plans that offer lower premiums.

Part of the good news for 2012 reflected a statistical revision that the Commerce Department adopted last year, resulting in a more robust estimate of Gross Domestic Product. Without that change, health care spending would have approached 18 percent of the economy. The report’s authors said that they updated statistics going back to the 1960s to account for the new GDP methodology.

No matter which party controls the White House, it would be good for the country to get health care costs under control, said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a former Congressional Budget Office director and an adviser to Republicans. He’s not convinced.

“In the 1990s we had four straight years of very low growth, and then it disappeared,” said Holtz-Eakin.

“I think the jury is still out on where we end up,” he added. “But it’s a very interesting set of data, and one that everybody is staring at.”

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