Health spending continues to soar

The cost of health care

TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Back during the height of the health care debate, President Obama had a line he liked to use when he was out making speeches -- that doing nothing to stop rising costs, the president would say, was actually doing something. It was choosing to let those costs take over virtually the entire economy. We learned this morning how true that might turn out to be.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services -- that's the agency that runs those programs -- reported today that we spent $2.5 trillion on medical care last year. And that taxpayers are footing more of that bill than anybody had thought. From the health desk at WHYY in Philadelphia, Gregory Warner has more.


GREGORY WARNER: A lot of this year's jump in government's share of the spending is due to the recession. The weak economy pushed more people off private insurance and onto Medicaid. But look beyond the recession bump, and the message of this year's numbers is the same as last year's.

Chris Truffer co-wrote the report for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

CHRIS TRUFFER: The fundamentals that have been driving health care spending growth we project are going still be fairly similar as the recession ends.

Translation? Every year we're using more health care, and every year, we're paying more for it. It's a bigger share of the economy. Now more than $1 in every $6.

That means health-care premiums will keep rising. More people with plans will lose them. And more tax dollars will go to health care.

Henry Aaron is a fellow at the Brookings Institution.

HENRY AARON: It would mean steadily increasing pressure on public budgets and if those budgets are not managed effectively that could create very serious problems economically for the nation.

If this doesn't sound like a new alarm, it's not.

Buz Cooper is a professor of medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.

BUZ COOPER: This time the fear that the economy will implode may be real! The problem is that it's been forecasted so many times!

He says even the most optimistic proposals on the table for health-care reform would not stop the rising cost.

COOPER: So we're on a course of increasing health-care spending, and we're going to get there sometime.

There being the point where we can no longer afford to stay on that course.

In Philadelphia, I'm Gregory Warner for Marketplace.

About the author

Gregory Warner is a senior reporter covering the economics and business of healthcare for the entire Marketplace portfolio.

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