By Ken Perez, vice president of healthcare policy and government affairs, Omnicell, Inc.
Discussions about the cost of healthcare in the United States often take the form of debates, pitting one sector against the other. Classic examples are health insurers (payers) versus hospitals and health systems (providers), and pharmaceutical manufacturers versus providers. Often at stake in these clashes are the relative sizes of the healthcare economic pie received by the different sectors.
Looking at healthcare through a societal lens helps one avoid participating in these debates and instead focus on macro issues. For years, how much the U.S. spends in total on healthcare—across all payers and for all healthcare—has been at the top of the macro issues list.
National health expenditures (NHE) are the universally accepted measure of that. On March 28, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) released the 2021-2030 National Health Expenditure report, which was prepared by the CMS Office of the Actuary.
How much did the U.S. in total spend on healthcare last year? In 2021, national health spending totaled $4.3 trillion, equal to 18.8% of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) and down from a record 19.7% of GDP in 2020 that reflected the significant spending incurred to respond to COVID-19. Because of the pandemic, NHE grew sharply (9.7%) from 2019 to 2020, and its growth slowed to 4.2% in 2021. Per capita health expenditures were $13,037 in 2021. To put that in perspective, last year, the U.S. spent almost $1,100 per month on healthcare for the average per person.
Comparisons with Other Countries
Since healthcare consumes almost a fifth of the nation’s GDP, one has to ask whether that is good or bad. One basis for answering that question is to compare U.S. healthcare spending with that of similarly advanced industrialized countries. Two measures are commonly used to perform that comparison: 1) healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP; and 2) per capital health expenditures.
Healthcare is one of the last industries to be disrupted by technology. Although unprecedented levels of biomedical knowledge, surgical procedures, and condition management have been amassed, we are not using them to their potential to create the tools to improve healthcare experiences. A balance of privacy and policy regulations with technology is the key to creating a secure yet efficient healthcare system.
The State of Healthcare
A staggering portion of healthcare costs are wasted. According to the Institute of Medicine (IOM), $765 billion or 30 percent of the 2009 total U.S. healthcare spending was wasted. Key areas that were tracked include unnecessary services, services inefficiently delivered, prices that are too high, excess administrative costs, missed prevention opportunities and medical fraud.
Overused services, defensive medicine and higher-cost services total $210 billion in excess cost;
Medical errors, care fragmentation and preventable complications total $130 billion in excess cost;
Duplicative costs to administer insurance and insurances’ administrative inefficiencies drive $190 billion in excess cost;
Product prices beyond competitive levels total $105 billion in excess cost;
Missed prevention opportunities like primary, secondary and tertiary prevention total $55 billion in excess cost;
Fraudulent claims total $75 billion in excess cost.
Additionally, there will not be enough physicians in the next few years to meet the growing demand. The Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) projects a shortage of 62,000 physicians by 2015. This shortage is expected to increase to 91,000 by 2020. This physician deficit is due to an aging Boomer Baby population, the insuring millions of new patients through the Affordable Card Act, and the retiring of a large number of doctors in the coming decade.
Technology can curb inefficient health management, increase knowledge sharing, and improve access to a shrinking physician pool. However, proper precautions must be taken to safeguard patient information privacy while empowering healthcare providers to provide more efficient care.
Healthcare technology is largely regulated by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). It was created in 1996 to protect the privacy of electronic patient data, known as protected health information (PHI) and to restrict access to PHI. Predating the iPhone by 10 years, the HIPAA rules were strengthened in 2013 to increase rigor on de-identifying PHI, to broaden HIPAA’s reach to include all entities that touch PHI directly and indirectly, and to notify affected parties if a PHI breach has occurred.