What Drives the High Cost of Health Care?

Jennifer Agnello, President

The statistics are shocking. In 2017, U.S. health care spending hit $3.5 trillion, or $10,739 per person. Under current law, national health spending is projected to grow at an average rate of 5.5 percent per year over the 2018 to 2027 period; as a result, the health share of GDP is expected to rise from 17.9 percent in 2017 to 19.4 percent by 2027.

The 2019 Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) Employer Health Benefits Survey found that the annual family premium for employer health insurance rose 5 percent to average $20,576. On average, employees pay $6,015 toward the cost. A whopping 66 percent of those in employer health plans with high deductibles say they couldn’t pay a medical bill the size of their deductible without going into debt.

Now, let’s talk about the real problems. From all perspectives, there is no one single cause for the rise in costs, nor is there a single solution to contain them. Following are a few of the main drivers:

Pharmaceutical Costs

It’s estimated that prescription drug spending in the United States was approximately $344.5 billion in 2018. The cost has since continued to rise due to a number of factors, including population growth, an increase in number of prescriptions per person, inflation, and changes in the composition of drugs prescribed toward higher price products or price increases.

1 in 4 Americans say they take four or more prescription drugs. According to GoodRx, the average price of brand-name drugs has increased by approximately 30 percent in a nine-month time frame. The average cash price for a 30-day supply of the top 100 brand-name drugs has increased from $300 in October 2018 to more than $400 in July 2019. Specialty drugs have accounted for 41 percent of drug spending in 2018 and are projected to reach 50 percent by 2020.

In most countries, the government negotiates drug prices with drug makers, but when Congress created Medicare Part D, it specifically denied Medicare the right to use its power to negotiate drug prices. Veterans Affairs and Medicaid, which can negotiate drug prices, pay the lowest drug prices. The Congressional Budget Office found that just by giving low-income beneficiaries of Medicare Part D the same discount Medicaid recipients get, the federal government would save $116 billion over 10 years.

Aging Population

According to the World Health Organization, the projected growth of people age 65 or older, worldwide is predicted to rise from 524 million in 2010 to 1.5 billion in 2050. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that Americans are living longer, but increased longevity comes with increased expense. The combined costs of the federal government’s two largest health care programs, Medicare and Medicaid, are projected to nearly double to a combined total of $1.76 trillion in 2025 from $901 billion in 2014.

By 2030 it is expected that more than 60 percent of baby boomers will manage more than one chronic condition, such as hypertension, high cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and congestive heart failure. In 2014, personal health care spending per person for the 65 and older population was $19,098 in 2014, more than five times higher than spending per child ($3,749), and almost three times the spending per working-age person ($7,153).

Lifestyle and Behavioral Choices

More than 70 percent of health care costs are attributable to choices such as obesity, smoking, and alcohol abuse. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, nearly 39.8 percent of Americans are obese and one out of every six children from age 2 to 19 is overweight or obese. This number has doubled for children and quadrupled for adolescents over the past 30 years.

Lack of Adherence to Medical Advice

50 percent of patients DO NOT take medications as prescribed. The results are recurrence of symptoms, duplication of treatment, and increased hospital re-admission rates.

Inefficiencies within the System

Hospitals are estimated to waste as much as $11 billion per year on inefficiencies and unnecessary medical treatments. Preventable mistakes also account for rising costs. As many as 400,000 people die each year as the result of medical error.

Defensive Medicine

The high cost of medical malpractice insurance drives the rise in the practice of defensive medicine. A Gallup survey estimated that $650 billion annually could be attributed to defensive medicine. Duplicate tests, prescribing more drugs, and referring to more specialists provide a protection that offsets the anxiety of being sued.

Increased Utilization = Increased Cost

Increased supply, greater access to health care facilities, newly insured (previously uninsured), growing population, aging population, access to Medicare/Medicaid, new procedures and technologies, recommended increases in preventive guidelines/treatments, newer diseases and treatment categories, new drugs, and increased demand for them are all attributable to increased costs due to increased utilization.

Where is the Transparency?

The rapid adoption and growth of consumer-directed health plans makes it even more critical to have the information needed to compare costs and alternatives. Improvements in transparency will not only assist consumers, but would hold the market accountable. Without accountability for both price and quality, those who suffer the consequences are the consumers both in a general lack of understanding and financially.

We all play a significant role in containing health care costs. Are you doing your part? The expert team at Cornerstone can help you present quality, cost-saving, and creative solutions for your clients. Call us today to learn more.

 

Resources

https://www.kff.org/health-costs/report/2019-employer-health-benefits-survey/

https://www.cms.gov/Research-Statistics-Data-and-Systems/Statistics-Trends-and-Reports/NationalHealthExpendData/Downloads/highlights.pdf

https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/benefits/pages/average-family-premiums-top-$20,000.aspx

https://www.goodrx.com/blog/brand-name-drugs-getting-more-expensive-july-monthly-report/

https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2016/january2016/the-aging-population-the-increasing-effects-on-health-care

https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/nhe-fact-sheet.html

https://nahu.org/media/1147/healthcarecost-driverswhitepaper.pdf

https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/factsheets/factsheet_nhanes.htm

https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/news/media/releases/study_suggests_medical_errors_now_third_leading_cause_of_death_in_the_us

https://www.forbes.com/sites/realspin/2013/08/27/defensive-medicine-a-cure-worse-than-the-disease/#6a6c4e827c95

https://avalere.com/insights/us-healthcare-spending-projected-to-grow-5-5-annually-through-2027

https://www.statista.com/statistics/184914/prescription-drug-expenditures-in-the-us-since-1960/

https://www.statista.com/statistics/184914/prescription-drug-expenditures-in-the-us-since-1960/

https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/express-scripts-reduces-employers-annual-prescription-drug-spending-growth-rate-to-historic-low-in-2017-300594171.html

http://www.crfb.org/press-releases/fact-sheet-how-much-money-could-medicare-save-negotiating-prescription-drug-prices

https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/nhe-fact-sheet.html

https://www.cms.gov/research-statistics-data-and-systems/statistics-trends-and-reports/nationalhealthexpenddata/nhe-fact-sheet.html

https://nahu.org/media/1147/healthcarecost-driverswhitepaper.pdf

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3068890/

https://www.healthitoutcomes.com/doc/billion-wasted-annually-due-to-inefficient-communication-technology-0001

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