Is Obamacare slowing health care spending?

obamacare healthcare spending
Health care spending is at record lows, but should Obamacare get credit?

There are many assumptions about what the effects of Obamacare will be. This series aims to separate myths from realities and answer questions surrounding the Affordable Care Act.

Myth: Obamacare has slowed health care spending growth.

Reality: President Obama likes to stress that health care spending has fallen to record lows in recent years thanks in part to Obamacare.

It's true that after years of skyrocketing increases, America's health care spending growth has slowed to record lows. The Office of the Actuary in the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported earlier this year that national health spending grew by 3.9% each year from 2009 to 2011, the lowest rate of growth since the federal government began keeping such statistics in 1960, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

But is Obamacare the reason?

Not entirely, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation and Altarum Institute, a health research group. They concluded that about three-quarters of the slowdown is due to the lackluster economy. The rest stems from efforts to keep spending down, including measures introduced in the 2010 health reform law, commonly known as Obamacare.

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People spend less on health care in weak economic times. Those who lose their jobs often lose coverage and hold off on seeing the doctor. Even workers with company-sponsored plans may still face large out-of-pocket costs that they'd rather avoid unless absolutely necessary.

Companies have tried to curb their spending, too, by raising deductibles and co-pays, as well moving toward high-deductible plans, through which enrollees must typically spend a few thousand dollars before coverage kicks in. A growing number of companies have also instituted disease management or wellness efforts that aim to cut costs by keeping workers healthier.

Obamacare exchange websites overloaded
Obamacare exchange websites overloaded

When it comes to Obamacare, many of the largest provisions -- including the requirements that individuals get coverage and employers provide affordable plans -- don't kick in until 2014 or later. But some of the early mandates are helping curb costs. Insurance companies, hospitals and other providers are seeing smaller payment increases, while insurers are limited in what they can spend on administrative costs and must submit any premium increases of more than 10% for review by state or federal experts.

The president, however, may not be able to brag much longer.

With the economy picking up and the health insurance exchanges opening in January, spending is expected to rise more swiftly. The growth rate for 2014 should jump to 6.1%, as millions of Americans gain coverage through the exchanges and Medicaid expansion, according to CMS actuary. And for the seven years after that, it's expected to average 6.2% annually.

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