The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 15, 2014

More US consumers are seeking medical care, report shows

(Continued)

On Monday, the Congressional Budget Office cited the prevalence of narrow networks as one reason premiums for Obamacare coverage in government-run exchanges will be lower in the next few years than previously expected.

David Axene, a fellow at the Society of Actuaries, estimates that rates for individual consumers under the health law may rise, on average, 6 percent to 8.5 percent next year. He cautions that rates will vary across the country, and some health insurers such as industry giant WellPoint Inc. have already warned about double-digit rate hikes in some markets.

“Many exchange health plans got better discounts than anticipated from providers, but there is really a strong pushback now from hospitals and physicians who are concerned about having enough money to cover their costs,” said Axene, an actuary in Murrieta, Calif. “I hope we can stay south of double digits, but there’s no guarantee we will.”

From 2009 to 2012, U.S. health care spending grew annually at less than 4 percent, according to federal data. That’s been the lowest rate of growth in half a century, and has sparked considerable debate about the underlying reasons.

Many health economists and industry officials have attributed the slowdown primarily to lingering effects of the Great Recession, when millions of Americans cut back on medical care. But the Obama administration and other experts have pointed to fundamental changes in health care reimbursement and the delivery of care spurred by the Affordable Care Act.

The IMS Health report found that total U.S. spending on pharmaceutical drugs grew 3.2 percent last year to $329.2 billion. That came after a 1 percent drop in 2012 — the first decline since IMS began tracking the data in 1957.

Patent protections expiring on major drugs and cheaper generic substitutes flooding the market helped drive that previous decrease. Aitken said patent expirations had less impact last year and there was greater use of health care in general.

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