Speed Reads

Bending the curve

U.S. spending on health care last year rose the smallest amount since 1960

U.S. spending on health care last year rose the smallest amount since 1960

The amount that America collectively spent on health care last year rose 3.6 percent from the previous year, to an average of $9,255 a person, federal health officials reported on Wednesday. That may not seem particularly newsworthy, but it's the fifth year in a row that health care spending has risen by less than 5 percent, closely matching the growth in GDP.

As Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services statistician Micah Hartman notes, 3.6 percent is also "the lowest increase on record in the national health expenditures going back to 1960." Taken with the previous decade, and the last four years in particular, this is "evidence that the American health care system may be changing in ways that could make it more affordable in the years to come," says The New York Times' Margot Sanger-Katz, who provides this helpful chart:

Economists are still strenuously debating what's behind the drop in health care spending, with some arguing that a hangover from the 2007-09 recession is to blame and others crediting ObamaCare for lower expenditures. It's probably a combination of several factors, but if you dig into the data, "there are lots of good signs about how that spending is declining," Sanger-Katz says. And it's important that per-person spending shrink, or at least grow slowly, because thanks to ObamaCare, millions more people will have health insurance in the 2014 numbers and beyond.