So the numbers on national health expenditure are out, and health spending plummeted by 50% in 2004!! Oops, what I meant to say was that health spending only went up by 7.9% — barely enough to trouble the scorers (as they say in cricket). But wait — you all think that health spending went down in the 1990s and up by 15% in the early 2000s. That’s not true. That’s what happened to private sector insurance premiums. The overall news (as can be seen in the NY Times chart) is that spending growth in the whole health care sector never went up much over 9% even in the worst years of 2001–2 but it hasn’t slowed down to the mid 1990s when it came down to 5%, which was near the same growth as the rest of the (nominal) economy.
Of course where there has been slowing in costs in the last year has been in pharmaceuticals. Some of you might think that’s because lots of drugs went off patent and relieved consumers switched to generics, but you’d apparently be wrong.
“Mark Merritt, president of the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association, said the new data vindicated the techniques used by members of his organization to manage drug spending”
In other words, it’s another great triumph of the PBMs. Funny, I don’t remember Mr Merritt being quoted in this type of article in the late 1990s when drug costs were going up much faster than the rest of health care spending. Were there no PBMs back then? Oh well, he might as well claim credit as apparently the rest of the health care system is now out to undermine his brave members in their feverish attempts to lower drug costs.
But, Mr. Merritt said, at the federal and state levels, "lobbyists for brand-name drug makers, chain drugstores, trial lawyers and others are working to undermine many of the tools we have used to reduce the rate of growth in drug spending." For example, he said, brand-name drug companies have resisted state laws that encourage the substitution of generic drugs.
It takes a slightly cooler head to respond to what’s really going on. Paul Ginsburg from HSC noted that:
"The rate of growth in health spending slowed in 2004, but it’s still substantially higher than trends in earnings, which are the key to being able to afford health care," Mr. Ginsburg said. "Health insurance is becoming less affordable to more people." As usual, health spending grew faster than the economy or consumer prices. The Consumer Price Index, a widely used measure of inflation, increased 3.3 percent in 2004.
For those of you keeping score at home the count is now $1.9 trillion spent on health care in the US — an average of $6,280 a person, and 16 percent of GDP. Another area in which America proudly leads the world!