Category: Health Care Costs

PPI: Health Prices (Except Pharmaceuticals) Stay Tame As Other Prices Rise

BLSSeptember’s Producer Price Index rose 0.3 percent, a significant pick up. However, prices for most health goods and services grew slowly, if at all. Eleven of the 15 prices for health goods and services reported grew slower than the headline PPI. The major exception was prices for pharmaceutical preparations, which increased 1.2 percent, resuming a trend which I had hoped was breaking down. Further, prices of medicinal and botanical chemicals dropped 0.7 percent. So, price increases for pharmaceutical preparations are not coming from the ingredients.

However, over the last twelve months, prices of health goods and services have increased faster than overall PPI, which grew 0.7 percent. The tables are turned: 11 of 15 health categories experienced larger price increases than PPI did. Pharmaceutical preparations continue to stand out dramatically, having grown 8.1 percent. Nursing homes, for which prices rose 2.4 percent, might replace drug makers as the whipping boy for high health prices, but they have a long way to go.

(See Table I below the fold.)

EpiPen Maker Lobbied U.S. Preventive Services Task Force

According to a report in the Washington Examiner, drug maker Mylan lobbied the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to require insurers to pay the full price of EpiPens by deeming the drug delivery device a preventative measure. Under the Affordable Care Act, health plans must cover preventive services 100% without cost-sharing regardless of whether deductibles have been met. EpiPens are used by people with severe allergies who go into anaphylactic shock.  They are not used to prevent anaphylaxis, they treat the symptoms once it occurs. For example, under ACA regulations, a flu shot is a preventive medicine. Once you have the flu, seeing your doctor for Tamiflu would be a treatment, not a prevention.

Government And The Cost Of Dental Care

UntitledIn July 2015, former Enron board member, New York Times columnist, and champion of ever more government control of health care, Professor Paul Krugman, wrote a disturbing blog entry:

Wonkblog has a post inspired by the dentist who paid a lot of money to shoot Cecil the lion, asking why he — and dentists in general — make so much money. Interesting stuff; I’ve never really thought about the economics of dental care.

But once you do focus on that issue, it turns out to have an important implication — namely, that the ruling theory behind conservative notions of health reform is completely wrong.

For many years conservatives have insisted that the problem with health costs is that we don’t treat health care like an ordinary consumer good; people have insurance, which means that they don’t have “skin in the game” that gives them an incentive to watch costs. So what we need is “consumer-driven” health care, in which insurers no longer pay for routine expenses like visits to the doctor’s office, and in which everyone shops around for the best deals.

Krugman goes on to insist dentistry is a consumer-driven market: Insurance is far less prevalent in dentistry than in medicine, and most dental care is routine and preventive. Yet, he points out, costs of dental care have risen at the same rate as those of other health care, not at the rate of other consumer goods and services.

Health Jobs Grew Twice As Fast As Non-Health Jobs In September

BLSThis morning’s jobs report was a return to normal, with jobs in health services growing twice as fast as non-health jobs (0.21 percent versus 0.10 percent). With 33,000 jobs added, health services accounted for one fifth 156,000 jobs added. Ambulatory sites (with the exception of labs) added jobs at more than double the rate of hospitals. Nursing and most other residential care facilities were flat (Table I).

GDP: Health Services Grew Almost 12 Times Faster Than Non-Health GDP

BEAThe media noted today’s third estimate of second quarter Gross Domestic Product was revised upward from the second estimate. It was a sharply revised estimate of health spending that led to the higher overall estimate. While the estimate of GDP was revised up by $12.9 billion, the estimate of health services spending was revised up by $16.2 billion. Spending on services other than health services was revised down.

In real (inflation-adjusted) dollars, services grew 2.9 percent (annualized, seasonally adjusted) from the first quarter. As a large component of services, health services grew 7.1 percent.  While real GDP growth was 1.4 percent, once health services is stripped out, non-health GDP grew just 0.6 percent.

See Table I below the fold:

CPI: Medical Care Prices Rose 10 Times More Than Non-Medical Prices in August

BLSThe Consumer Price Index rose 0.2 percent in August. Medical prices, however, continued their upward march, increasing by one full percent – 10 times more than non-medical consumer goods and services. If prices for medical care had been flat, the CPI would have risen by just 0.1 percent. Hospital services, prescription drugs, and health insurance stand out even within medical care. Price increases for medical care have contributed 42 percent of the overall CPI increase.

Over the last twelve months, prices for medical care have increased seven times faster than prices for non-medical items in the CPI. Price increases for medical care have contributed 36 percent of the overall CPI increase.

Many observers of medical prices decline to differentiate between nominal and real inflation. Because CPI is flat, even relatively moderate nominal price hikes for medical care are actually substantial real price hikes. More than six years after the Affordable Care Act was passed, consumers are seeing no relief from high medical prices, which have increased over twice as much as the CPI less medical care since March 2010, the month President Obama signed the law.

(See Figure I and Table I below the fold):

Consumer Driven Health Care Gets Messy: That’s the Good News

According to a new health benefits survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, premiums for employer coverage rose only about 3% in 2016. The low increase was due to rising deductibles. A slight majority (51%) of workers have a deductible of $1,000 or more. Two-thirds of workers in small firms do, while slightly less than half of large firm workers (45%) are covered by $1,000 or higher deductible.  About 10 years ago, only 4% of workers were enrolled in a high-deductible plan with a savings component. Now, nearly one-third are. [See the figure.]

PPI: Health Prices Up Among Zero Overall Inflation

BLSAs with July’s Producer Price Index, health price inflation is no longer eye-popping, but still higher than overall PPI, which was flat in August. Hospital outpatient care stands out, with prices having risen 1.1 percent, monthly. Other price increases were moderate, but only prices of X-Ray machines and electromedical equipment declined.

This is also true over the last twelve months. Pharmaceutical prices especially stand out, even though they have risen moderately for a few months. It will take a while for the trend of high prices hikes from a few months ago to break down. Nursing homes, for which prices rose 3.0 percent, might replace drug makers as the whipping boy for high health prices, but they have a long way to go.

(See Table I below the fold.)

QSS: Strong Health Services Revenue Growth in 2nd Quarter

Census2This morning’s Quarterly Services Survey showed strong revenue growth in health services. Overall, revenues grew 3.6 percent in Q2 versus Q1 and 6.7 percent versus Q2 2015. For the first half, revenues grew 5.9 percent versus H1 2015. Growth was positive in all sectors except specialty hospitals. Physicians’ offices led the growth, at 4.5 percent. This is a turnaround from Q1. Perhaps most surprising was medical and diagnostic labs, for which revenue grew 4.0 percent. Labs have shed jobs, so increasing revenue suggests productivity improvements.

See Table I below the fold:

Significant Job Losses in Nursing Homes A Drag On Health Job Growth

BLSThis morning’s jobs report was somewhat weaker than expected, adding 151,000 jobs versus 180,000 expected. For the first time in many months, job growth in health services slightly lagged growth in non-health jobs (0.09 percent versus 0.11 percent).

However, there was a significant divergence within health services: Jobs in ambulatory care and hospitals jumped 0.16 percent and 0.21 percent, while nursing homes shed 7,000. That imposed a massive drag on health services overall, limiting growth to 14,000 jobs (Table I).