Today researchers from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, writing in the journal Health Affairs, reported that U.S. health spending reached $2.5 trillion in 2009, and that health care’s share of the economy grew 1.1 percentage points to 17. 3 percent—the largest one-year increase since the federal government began keeping track in 1960. These findings underscore the need for comprehensive health care reform that will help rein in the unsustainable spending growth that is placing an increasing burden on American families, businesses, and state and local governments.
Clearly the nation’s sluggish economy was a big reason for the increase in percentage of health spending as a share of gross domestic product (GDP), which actually shrank by 1.1 percent in 2009. Of greater concern for the future of our health system and the health of our economy is the projection that health spending will increase to nearly one-fifth—19.3%—of GDP by 2019, with a growing number of uninsured and underinsured—as more businesses find it difficult to pay for adequate insurance coverage for employees, and as more Americans lose their jobs. Inefficiencies in our health care system and the lack of incentives to provide high quality, cost effective health care play a large role in rising costs.
These untenable increases in health care costs and the economic hardship it poses for middle-class families lend additional evidence that we cannot afford to continue on our current path—spending much more than other countries do for health care that falls short on many meausures of quality and avoidable deaths and disability, while nearly 50 million Americans are uninsured, and 72 million working-age adults struggle to pay medical bills or have accumulated medical debt.
Congress should aim not to miss this historic opportunity to reform our health care system and put us on the path to a high performance health system and a healthy economy. Comprehensive reform will help control spending, and it will finally put the U.S. on track to get real value for its health care dollars.