12:53pm

Wed October 31, 2012
Health and Welfare

Study on Factors Increasing Health Care Costs

Escalating health care costs are everybody's problem and no one entity's fault. Julie Appleby at Kaiser Health News reports that the United States spends about18 percent of its gross domestic product -- or about $2.6 trillion a year -- on health care costs. So what's making that figure rise? A Bipartisan Policy Center study took on the task of finding out and came up with it believes are seven major factors:

1. Paying our doctors, hospitals and other medical providers in ways that reward doing more, rather than being efficient. Even insurers like Medicare pay on a fee-for-service system. New efforts in the federal health law look to change that.
2. Growing older, sicker and fatter as a nation. Medicare is set to grow by an average of 1.6 million people annually. With two-thirds of adults are either overweight or obese, lots of additional medical spending looms.
3. Wanting the latest drugs, technologies, services and procedures. Prices for newer treatments are often higher than for the products they replace.
4. Employers and employees get tax breaks on health insurance, and it costs employees little to seek care. Appleby writes, "The majority of people with insurance get it through their jobs. The amount employers pay toward coverage is tax deductible for the firm and tax exempt to the worker, thus encouraging more expensive health plans with richer benefits, the report says. How that coverage is designed also plays a role: Low deductibles or small office co-payments can encourage overuse of care, the report says. Increasingly, however, employers are moving toward high-deductible coverage as a way to slow premium growth and require workers to pay more toward the cost of care."
5. Not having enough information to make decisions on which medical care is best for us.
6. Hospitals increasingly gain market share through consolidation and demand higher prices.
7. Legal issues complicate efforts to slow spending. Doctors sometimes prescribe tests or treatment out of fear of facing a lawsuit, the report says. Fraudulent billing is another concern. The report notes that laws sometimes limit the ability of medical professionals to do work for which they are trained but that more highly paid doctors must do. (Read more)

To read the entire Bipartisan Policy Center report here.