We have a couple of promising trends emerging from the recent reports. Consumers saved $3.9 billion in premiums last year, according to an analysis released today from the CMS. Why? Because Obamacare stipulates that insurers must spend at least 80% of their premium dollars on medical expenses.
Called the MLR provision or the “80/20” rule, it forces insurers to lower their rates or improve coverage to meet the standard. And, if they don’t comply, a rebate is issued to the patients. This year, 8.5 million Americans will receive $500 million in rebates. On top of this, they saved more than $3.4 billion from lower premiums in 2012.
All of this comes a t a time when spending in general is trending down. PricewaterhouseCoopers’ Healthcare Research Institute (HRI) now predicts that U.S. medical costs in 2014 will spike by 6.5 percent, a full percentage point lower than the organization’s estimate of 7.5 percent for 2013. The net growth rate in healthcare costs, after accounting for benefit design changes such as higher deductibles, will be about 4.5 percent. The truth is that this is part of a longer-term trend. Between 2009 and 2011, total health spending grew at the lowest annual pace in the last five decades, at just 3.9 percent a year. In contrast, between 2000 and 2007, those annual growth figures ranged between 6.2 and 9.7 percent.
The reasons are familiar: the move to less costly outpatient settings to deliver care; the sluggish recovery which has tempered healthcare spending (the Kaiser Family Foundation thinks this is three-quarters of the reason for lower spending); new models for delivering care; and aspects of Obamacare (like the 80/20 rule for example). Then there’s all the waste that reform has gone after. According to government data, hospital readmissions dropped by nearly 70,000 in 2012, and this trend is expected to accelerate through 2014.
Still, we have a long way to go and a few years of bending the cost curve don’t make up for decades of exorbitant increases. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, the average American’s cost of care has gone up 140 percent over the past 10 years, while wages only went up 40 percent. Still, the numbers offers hope that we are starting to gain some ground.