Health Spending and Prices to Rise, 2018 through 2025

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Actuaries at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, a government agency, have just updated their estimate of future health spending:

For 2018 and beyond, both Medicare and Medicaid expenditures are projected to grow faster than in the 2016–17 period, and more rapidly than private health insurance spending, for several reasons. First, growth in the use of Medicare services is expected to increase from its recent historical lows (though still remain below longer-term averages). Second, the Medicaid population mix is projected to trend more toward somewhat older, sicker, and therefore costlier beneficiaries. Third, baby boomers will continue to age into Medicare, with some of them dropping private health insurance as a result. And finally, growth in the demand for health care for those with private coverage is projected to slow as the relative price of health care—the difference between medical prices and economywide prices—is expected to begin gradually increasing in 2018 and as income growth slows in the later years of the projection period.

Before the Affordable Care Act passed in March 2010, President Obama repeatedly promised the typical family’s health premiums would go down by $2,500 after implementing the expansion of health insurance we label Obamacare.

Nothing of the sort has happened, of course. For the last few years, prices and spending have appeared moderate by historical standards. However, that is largely because they are reported in nominal terms, not real (inflation-adjusted) terms. From the Great Recession until very recently, general measures of inflation were about zero. An increase of premiums of eight percent when general measures of inflation are about zero is a lot more than an increase of eight percent when general measures of inflation are about three percent.

The vanity of Obamacare was that more central planning would reduce wasteful use of resources through “value-based” and “accountable” care. In fact, demand for health services by the privately insured will shrink only because prices outpace our ability to pay for them as government weighs down our prosperity.

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