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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

The halt in rising health-care costs

Health care’s share of GDP has been a subject of concern for decades. Between the 1950s and 2000s, American spending on health care rose from 5% of GDP to 17%. In recent times, health-care shares across the world spiked in 2020 and 2021 due to pandemic-related spending. Since then, they have declined back to near pre-2009 levels.

In some countries, such as Australia and Sweden, health-care spending relative to GDP has decreased significantly since the pre-covid peak. Even in the United States, historically known for expensive health care, new data suggests that the share of spending on health care has been declining since before the pandemic. This is unprecedented in the industry.

The rise of health-care prices has started to stabilize. Relative to the GDP deflator, a economywide inflation measure, the rise in health and social care across the rich world has largely stopped. This is a significant change given that health-care inflation typically exceeded average inflation for several decades.

Productivity growth and technological changes may have contributed to this shift. Improvements in health-care productivity and the availability of more cost-effective treatments are likely factors. Demand-side factors, like regulation changes in the Affordable Care Act in the US and belt-tightening in European countries post-financial crisis, have also played a role in keeping health-care costs in check.

As the world stopped getting significantly richer after 2008, health care spending has slowed down. Although the future is uncertain, it is clear that health-care spending need not continue to be the world’s greatest financial concern.

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