Robert Samuelson: Health spending — under control?

Washington Post, December 14, 2014

Has the monster of exploding health costs finally been slain? After five years of slow spending growth, it’s tempting to think so. This would be a momentous development, because rising health spending has had damaging side effects. It has reduced workers’ take-home pay, as employers devoted more compensation dollars to insurance and fewer to wages and salaries. Growing government health spending (mainly through Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the poor) has had a similar effect. It has squeezed other public programs.

The trend lines seem favorable. Recently, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) reported that from 2009 to 2013 annual increases in health spending averaged only 3.9 percent — well below historical experience. As recently as 2007, the gain was 6.3 percent. The result: Since 2009, health care’s share of the economy has stabilized at 17.4 percent of gross domestic product. Although that’s $2.9 trillion ($9,255 for every American), health care is no longer siphoning more resources from the economy’s other sectors.

Can this continue?

Unfortunately, experts disagree. Differing on what’s caused the slowdown, they split on how long it will last.