Health Care Spending Isn’t Growing Anywhere

This is a familiar chart, health care spending as a percent of GDP for the OECD countries.

I didn’t put this up to remind you that we spend a boatload more money than any other developed country on health care, rather there’s a couple interesting relationships that are kind of interesting.

First, note the flat line in the trend for the US which starts around 2008/2009. Okay, don’t scream that everyone knows that growth leveled off over the past few years. I’ve heard the news too, but note that the rest of the developed world seems to be experiencing pretty much the same phenomenon. Now, we’ve heard all sorts of theories about why the growth in the US leveled off. The recession has been credited, unemployment likewise and even ACA though not yet implemented has been deemed to have mystical powers to bend cost curves just because. If the same thing is happening elsewhere it doesn’t seem completely speculative to assume that there must be a common factor at least partially responsible for the leveling of growth. We know there hasn’t been any spurt in GDP growth which would skew the numbers, so the answer isn’t in the denominator, therefore there must have been some real constraint on the growth of spending. Frankly, I’m hard pressed to come up with any answer other than hard times caused people to cut back. Pretty lame, I know, so I’m open to other interpretations.

Second, and I suspect most of you noticed this some time ago, we’ve seen growth go flat before. Notably in the 90s growth appears to have been flat. This, however, might just be a function of the denominator muting the reality of health care cost growth. After all, the economy did grow quite nicely during that period. Be that as it may, our experience during that period might be taken as a caution about assuming that the rise in spending on health care has been tamed. History would seem to indicate the contrary.

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