The big surprise in the first quarter was the dip in health-care spending. The U.S. spent $6.4 billion less on health care in the first quarter than in the last quarter of 2013. Government statisticians initially forecast a 9.9 percent increase in health-care spending—and what we got was a 1.4 percent decline. Considering all the millions of previously uninsured people who are gaining access to health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, how can they be shrinking so dramatically?
Health-care costs overall have been increasing more slowly in recent years compared with the pace before the 2007-09 recession. Slow growth in the price of health-care services combined with a decline in utilization—the amount of health care people consumed—in the first quarter. So lower costs and greater access translated into lower consumption. That’s a head-scratcher.
Speaking of dollars, EBRI released its annual health care savings account ("HSA") survey as we mark the first decade of the HSA / high deductible health plan pairing. Among other findings are these --
Starting from scratch a decade ago, enrollment in HSA-eligible health plans is estimated to range from 15.5 mil-lion to 20.4 million policyholders and their dependents, and it has also been estimated that there are 10.7 mil-lion accounts holding $19.3 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, 2013. Seventy percent of HSAs were opened since 2011.
The average HSA balance at the end of 2013 was $1,766, up from $1,280 at the beginning of the year. Average account balances increased with the age of the owner of the account. Account balances averaged $697 for owners under age 25 and $4,460 for owners ages 65 and older.Reuters reports that "People who visit their primary care doctors shortly after high-risk surgeries are less likely to end up back in the hospital during the next month, according to a new study. Visiting a primary care doctor was particularly beneficial for the high-risk patients who experienced complications during their time in the hospital for surgery, though it made little difference for people without complications." Interesting.
Finally, here's an interesting survey report from Becker's Hospital Review for customer service types --
[T]he majority (54 percent) of insured consumers are either sometimes or always confused by their medical bills.
The survey made several findings concerning price transparency. The survey found 63 percent of survey respondents want to know the full cost of care, including their insurance company's portion, while 35 percent said they only cared about their direct medical costs. The survey also found 62 percent of survey respondents were either sometimes or always surprised by their out-of-pocket medical costs.
Although 80 percent of respondents said receiving pre-treatment cost estimates and pre-treatment insurance coverage estimates would be helpful in managing medical costs, only about 25 percent of the respondents had received pre-treatment cost estimates from providers.