Health Care


The government is reporting today that the growth and spending on health care slowed in 2008. In fact, health spending grew more slowly than at any time in at least a half century - that's the good news, but it's not the only news.

NPR's Julie Rovner has more.

JULIE ROVNER: The annual health spending statistics published by the Department of Health and Human Services are a classic case of good news and bad news. The good news: Health spending slowed down. Way down, said Anne Martin, one of the authors of the study published in the current issue of the policy journal Health Affairs.

Ms. ANNE MARTIN: National health spending growth slowed in 2008 to 4.4 percent, the slowest rate of growth in the National Health Expenditure Accounts.

ROVNER: In other words, the slowest growth since the government has kept records.

The bad news: Health care still totaled $2.3 trillion in 2008. That's more than $7,600 per man, woman and child. And it still grew faster than the rest of the economy.

There's still more bad news, says Rick Foster, the chief actuary at HHS. A major reason health spending slowed is that with the bad economy, many people simply couldn't afford medical care.

Mr. RICK FOSTER (Chief Actuary, Health and Human Services): In many cases, they lost their employer-sponsored health care benefits at the same time they lost their jobs. So that meant that the cost of care was much, much higher because they had to pay it out of pocket. So, some people, presumably, scaled back on their purchases.

ROVNER: Analysts say that given the depth of the recession, the problems with health spending probably didn't get any better in 2009.

Julie Rovner, NPR News, Washington.

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