Tag: "Health Care Costs"

Health-Related Producer Prices Tame in July

BLSThe Producer Price Index (PPI) for July increased more than expected, but was still benign. Health-related producer prices were tame last month.

Prices for pharmaceutical preparations, which have increased faster than other producer goods in the long term (rising 9.4 percent since July 2014), finally turned around and actually dropped 0.4 percent last month (See Table I). This was a bigger decline than prices for all final demand goods (-0.1 percent) or for all final demand (0.2 percent).

Producer Price Index: Pharma, Biologics Jump

The Producer Price Index (PPI) for June increased more than expected, as the effect of the drop in oil prices abated. As shown in Table I, producer price growth for health goods and services was in line with tame growth in overall PPI, which grew 0.4 percent on the month and dropped 0.7 percent on the year to June.

The exceptions were pharmaceutical preparations, which increased 2.5 percent on the month and are up 10.3 percent on the year; and biologic products (including diagnostics), which increased 3.1 percent month on month and 3.2 percent year on year.

Selling the Same Thing for a Different Price is Normal Market Behavior

Understanding the price of ketchup may go a long way towards explaining why mainstream health reformers give such bad reform advice.

Per capita health spending varies a great deal. It varies by geography, it varies by health status, it varies by demographics, and it varies by individual patient characteristics. Academics and government officials decry this variation. They think that health care spending and utilization should be the same everywhere. Despite ritual hand waving about the importance of clinical differences, their policy recommendations generally attribute variation to inefficiency, overuse, and waste.

Obamacare is Reducing Competition

Novel concepts—whether practice-management companies, home health care or the first for-profit HMO—almost always have come from entrepreneurial firms, often backed by venture capital.

That venture capital has been drying up since ObamaCare was passed. Instead, the biggest wagers in health-care services are being placed by private equity, which is chasing opportunities to roll up parts of the existing infrastructure. For instance, there were 95 hospital mergers in 2014, 98 in 2013, and 95 in 2012. Compare that with 50 mergers in 2005, and 54 in 2006. Cheap debt and ObamaCare’s regulatory framework almost guarantee more consolidation. That will mean less choice for consumers.

(Scott Gottlieb, “How the Affordable Care Act Is Reducing Competition,” Wall Street Journal, July 5, 2015.)

Health Spending Up, Up, and Away

The Quarterly Services Survey (QSS) is Census Bureau report that we should be watching to see how health costs are climbing. This blog last looked at it in September 2014. Fortunately, Dr. Drew Altman, CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation has been keeping a close eye on it. His conclusion:

New Evidence Health Spending Growing Faster Again

Analysis of the survey data shows that health spending was 7.3% higher in the first quarter of 2015 than in the first quarter of last year. Hospital spending increased 9.2%. Greater use of health services as well as more people covered by the ACA appear to be responsible for most of the increase. People are beginning to use more physician and outpatient services again as the economy improves. The number of days people spent in hospitals also rose. (Drew Altman, “New Evidence Health Spending Growing Faster Again,” Wall Street Journal, June 11, 2015)

The growth in number of days spent in hospital is very disconcerting. It had been on a downward trend for years. (See page 300 of this CDC report.)

Producer Prices: Health Goods & Services Lag

Last Friday’s Producer Price Index showed a jump from April to May of 0.5 percent (seasonally adjusted). When I last looked at the PPI, it looked like prices of health goods and services were outpacing other producer prices.

The latest data show them lagging (see Table 1). Although, looking at year-on-year data, pharmaceutical products, hospitals, and nursing homes have had relatively high price increases. Price inflation for health insurance has been moderate, according to the PPI.

Milliman: Health Costs Rising Again

The latest annual edition of the Milliman Medical Index (which estimates “the cost of healthcare for a typical American family of four covered by an average employer-sponsored preferred provider organization”) suggests that last year’s moderate rate of growth was idiosyncratically low.

Last year’s 5.4% growth rate was the lowest in the history of the Index. This year, the growth rate has climbed to 6.3 percent – exactly the same as 2013.

Milliman also concludes that the “Cadillac tax” is fast approaching, especially for workers at smaller firms.

Access to Health Care Unchanged After Obamacare’s First Year

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released early estimates of health insurance and access to health care for January through September 2014. The National Health Insurance Survey (NHIS) is (in my opinion) the most effective survey of health insurance, because it asks people three different but important questions: Are they uninsured at the time of the survey? Have they been uninsured for at least part of the year? Have they been uninsured for more than a year?

As shown in Figure 2, the proportion of long-term uninsured is about the same as it was circa 2000. The proportion of short-term uninsured has shrunk a little in Obamacare’s first year.

F2

400 Percent Cost Difference to Treat Prostate Disease

UCLA researchers have for the first time described cost across an entire care process for a common condition called benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH) using time-driven activity-based costing. They found a 400 percent discrepancy between the least and most expensive ways to treat the condition.

The finding takes on even further importance as there isn’t any proven difference in outcomes between the lower and higher cost treatments, said study first author Dr. Alan Kaplan, a resident physician in the UCLA Department of Urology.

“The rising cost of health care is unsustainable, and a big part of the problem is that health systems, health care providers and policy makers have a poor understanding of how much health care really costs,” Kaplan said. “Until this is well understood, taxpayers, insurers and patients alike will continue to bear the burden of soaring health care costs.”(UCLA Health)

From the study itself: “Although listed as ‘optional’ in practice guidelines, invasive diagnostic testing can increase costs by 150% compared with the standalone urology clinic visit. Of five different surgical options, a 400% cost discrepancy exists between the most and least expensive treatments.

We know why this happens: Patients are not involved in forming prices in U.S. health care. One solution is reference pricing. Why that has not yet taken of like wildfire is a question that we will be addressing in future entries.

Obamacare is Expensive and Difficult or Impossible to Afford

Obamacare is crushing agents and brokers, according to industry sources:

Amid the national debate over raising the federal minimum wage to $10 per hour, Scott Leavitt of Boise says he and his fellow advisors have been enrolling clients in their state’s health insurance exchange for an hourly wage that works out to about $4.50 – and sometimes even less. (Susan Rupe, InsuranceNewsNet)

And that is just the advisors. The same article also reports results from neutral or pro-Obamacare organizations like HealthPocket, Kaiser Family Foundation, and the Commonwealth Fund to show how much pain Obamacare is causing patients: Deductibles too high, premiums too expensive, and he whole shebang unaffordable.