KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Rising Costs To Business, Government and Consumers Inspire, Complicate Health Reform

Every 10 years or so, the cost of health care doubles. It went from $714 billion in 1990 to $1.4 trillion in 2000 to an expected $2.5 trillion this year, the Sacramento Bee reports. "As the health care reform movement goes into high gear, there is little question that escalating cost is the major factor driving the effort. But there is wide debate about whether health care legislation will reduce health care costs."

While rising premiums for consumers and employers stimulate much of the debate, a lingering ignorance among people insulated by insurance companies about the cost of care is also a problem that some experts say is not addressed in the legislation. "American consumers are used to getting whatever health care service they need, when they need it, and don't ask about the cost. If we're really going to change the system, people are going to have to care," Jane Emerson of the California Hospital Association told the Bee (Calvan, 9/18).

Reform plans now in Congress will probably help some consumers lower their costs, such as the middle-income and the sick, while wealthier people with costly plans and the young and healthy may get dinged, the Detroit Free Press reports. "But the big question remains: Can changes to cut waste in Medicare, reduce uncompensated hospital care and discourage unnecessary bloat in the system slow the skyrocketing cost of health care coverage in the United States, save Medicare and pay for reform -- estimated between $850 billion and $1 trillion -- without leaving taxpayers holding the bill?" (Spangler, 9/18).

That check comes on top of the $2.5 trillion in existing annual spending, which is expected to rise steeply, the Los Angeles Times reports. The Times likens the situation to three friends – consumers, businesses and government – trying to figure out how to split a big dinner bill. All three are hurting financially: Government faces record deficits, consumers are pinched by rising health insurance premiums and unemployment, and businesses are facing one of the worst economic periods since the Great Depression. A proposal by the House would stick government and business with much of the tab, while a plan from Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., chairman of the Finance Committee, could leave consumers paying a much larger portion (Levey, 9/18).

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