Policy-ish

Health Overhaul Won't Tame Costs

The folks wearing green eyeshades over at the Department of Health and Human Services have been busy crunching the numbers on how much the nation will spend on health care in the next decade.

Would it surprise you to know it's a lot? Probably not. But some of the details are still a little breathtaking. This year the actuaries figure we'll shell out $2.60 trillion on health care, or 17.3 percent of gross domestic product. That'll be up about 5.1 percent over 2009.

Hold onto your wallet. In 2019, which will be here before you know it, the tab is expected to hit $4.57 trillion and consume 19.6 percent of GDP. Whew!

But wait. How will the sweeping federal law that changes the nation's health system affect spending? Not as much as you might guess.

"In the aggregate, it appears that the affordable care act will have a moderate effect on health spending growth rates and the health care share of the economy," says Andrea Sisko, an economist at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and lead author of the spending report just published online by Health Affairs.

The actuaries project that because of changes made by lawmakers this year, health spending will grow 0.2 percentage points per year faster over the next decade. Thirty-two million more people will get insurance coverage because of the law, and that will cost real money.

But much of the increase will be offset by lower payments for Medicare, the analysis finds.

Out-of-pocket spending on health, meanwhile, is projected to grow more slowly for the next several years. But it could rise faster starting in 2018, if employers scale back coverage to avoid a tax on very generous health plans.

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