A Health Care Nation

health care nation2013 will be the year that America becomes “The Health Care Nation”, according to a recent article in Fortune magazine. Reactions to the new health care law will make health care the center of national attention once again, with the majority of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act’s provisions scheduled to take effect on January 1, 2014. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services predict that by 2020: health care spending will have reached 20% of GDP (with 50% of that amount provided by the government), growth in national health care expenditures will outpace GDP growth by 1.1% on average, and Medicaid expenditures will grow 20% in 2014 alone due to increased coverage. Meanwhile, a recent Bank of America poll of leading CFOs reports that 60% cite health care cost as a key economic concern for the nation and 58% cite health care cost as a key economic concern for their company. The only greater concerns are in regard to U.S. government effectiveness and the budget deficit, both of which are strongly affected by health care costs.

Economists disagree over whether or not rising health care costs harm American businesses’ competitiveness in global markets, a crucial question due to the fact that the US spends far more on health care than any other country. The Council on Foreign Relations recently released an “Expert Roundup” on this topic. Robert Graboyes of the National Federation of Independent Business took the position that new health care legislation is hurting American competitiveness because it creates an uncertain financial planning environment and Neeraj Sood of the University of Southern California claimed that “rising healthcare costs have significantly reduced employment and output growth among U.S. businesses”.  Jennifer Baron of Harvard University insists that the indirect costs of poor employee health, such as low productivity, are twice the cost of benefit spending and so the emphasis should be placed on improving wellness rather than controlling spending on insurance plans.

Rapidly rising health care costs have been shown to negatively impact both businesses and workers. It is a common view among economists that increases in health care costs are offset by lower wages in the market-based system of employer-provided health care. A study by the RAND Corporation claims that since wages are generally sticky and do not react quickly to market value changes, rising health care costs can have negative impacts on businesses’ cost competitiveness, employment levels, revenues, and value added. This effect is exacerbated in industries that offer coverage to most of their employees, such as the automobile industry, and have less of an effect on industries that do not, such as retail. To make matters worse, a study by the Institute of Medicine posits that up to 30% of national health care expenditures are wasteful due to excessive cost, unnecessary treatment, and missed prevention opportunities.

Obviously, health care is a rising concern for the U.S. government, American businesses, and individual Americans. The issue will take years if not decades to be corrected, but a sustainable trajectory for health care costs must be found to ensure U.S. economic stability. It will be up to lawmakers to decide whether a focus on costs, value, or employee wellness is most appropriate (or most likely some combination of these factors). No matter what decisions are made, they are sure to affect every American in this “Health Care Nation”.

Posted by: Ben Copper

Sources: Fortune, Bank of America, Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Council on Foreign                          Relations, The Economist, RAND Corporation, Health Affair, Institute of Medicine

Photo Credit: Hospital Bed, courtesy of flickr user: APM Alex

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