ObamaCare Will Reignite Health Inflation

Investors Business Daily Editorial


Health Reform: The New York Times just discovered that the nation’s health care system was on the mend before ObamaCare took effect. Too bad it didn’t tell its readers how Obama’s “reforms” will destroy this progress.

The Sunday Times article — “In Hopeful Sign, Health Spending Is Flattening Out” — didn’t break any new ground. The numbers the reporter used have been around since January. But it was a tacit admission by the paper that the health care system was not in a state of crisis before ObamaCare.

Quite the opposite, in fact. As the story notes, annual increases in health spending had been trending downward for years, to the point where they climbed less than 4% in 2009 and 2010.

This isn’t the only good news. The Times story doesn’t mention it, but premium increases had also been moderating over the past several years. While some of the slowdown was due to the recession, the Times notes that it “was sharper than health economists expected,” and quotes a former Obama health adviser as saying that “I think there’s much more going on.”

So what is that “much more”? To its credit, the Times also makes clear that the slowdown was due in large part to the recent trend in the private sector toward more high-deductible insurance plans. By 2011, the share of workers enrolled in high-deductible plans had risen to 13% from just 3% five years earlier.

This is a reversal of the trend over the past several decades, which had seen out-of-pocket spending for health care steadily decrease, as government programs and generous health benefits increasingly shielded consumers from the direct cost of care. While almost half of health spending was paid out-of-pocket in 1960, the figure had dropped to just 11% by 2010.

Not surprisingly, as consumers paid less and less out of pocket, demand for health care became virtually unlimited, pushing up spending and inflation. But it wasn’t until recently that businesses — after trying everything else — started bringing consumers back into the cost picture with “consumer directed” health plans.

These higher-deductible plans cut health spending, as consumers suddenly realized that health care costs money. A 2011 Rand Corp. study found health spending for families with a deductible of $500 per person or more dropped an average 14%

But the real story here isn’t these recent gains in getting health spending under control. It’s how ObamaCare will poison the patient just as it was starting to recover.

ObamaCare’s coverage mandates, its limits on co-pays and deductibles, its attack on Medical Savings Account plans, its vast expansion of Medicaid and its massive subsidies all will shield consumers from even more of the direct cost of care.

Medicare’s chief actuary, Richard Foster, told Congress in March that “out-of-pocket spending would be reduced significantly” by ObamaCare — and by that he meant $237 billion in a decade.

And, not surprisingly, that is going to drive up health spending. Foster predicts, in fact, that after staying relatively low for years, national health spending will shoot up by more than 8% in 2014, when ObamaCare fully takes effect. Over the next decade, he said, ObamaCare will add more than $300 billion to the U.S. health tab.

Anyone who thinks ObamaCare will fix the nation’s health system has it backwards. The system was getting healthier before ObamaCare, and will continue to improve only if that misbegotten law is repealed.


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