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ACP Blogger Wins Health Policy Award

Last week, I was honored to learn that the ACP Advocate blog was selected by voters in a national competition as the Best Health Policy/Ethics blog of 2009. Yesterday, ACP issued a news release announcing the award, in which I am quoted as saying that the blog “seeks to inform and entertain readers and to elicit thoughtful commentary from across the political spectrum, not just from ACP members but from others with an interest in health policy.”

Awards and recognition are nice, but what I enjoy most is making readers aware of interesting ideas, studies, and commentary that otherwise might not have come to your attention.

I don’t try to be impartial, but I try to be fair. I strive to present a range of views, grounded in ACP policies but informed by my own experiences as someone who has been involved in health policy and advocacy for 31 years.

Blogging requires a thick skin. Many of you have told me when you disagree with me – often vehemently. That is okay – I have no interest in this blog being an echo chamber of whatever people think I want to hear. And your commentary gives me an opportunity to explain things better.

For instance, one of the frequent commentators on this blog is “Arvind.” He also is one of my toughest critics. He posted this just the other day:

“I find that somehow you are speaking from both sides of your mouth. These two statements could not be any more illustrative – ‘the cost of health care is rising faster than families, small businesses, and taxpayers can afford’ and ‘And because of continued cuts in payments that do not cover their costs, most physicians are not accepting new Medicare and Medicaid patients.’ Can anybody explain how ‘health care costs’ can go out of control when Medicare pays so little that it does not even cover cost of providing care?”

The explanation is that health care costs are rising much faster than growth in the economy and family incomes, and Medicare expenditures also are increasing rapidly because of increases in the volume (numbers) and intensity (resources expended on each person) – even though Medicare payments for each service may not be keeping up with practice costs. Eligibility and enrollment expansions also will increase spending on programs like Medicare and Medicaid. Recessions tend to increase enrollment in and spending by government programs. Pandemics, like H1N1 pandemic, also increase demand for and spending on health care.

Specifically, Chris Fleming blogs in Health Affairs that “Medicare spending is expected to have reached $507.1 billion in 2009, an increase of 8.1 percent from 2008. . .Growth in spending on physician and clinical services is expected to have accelerated to 6.3 percent in 2009, up from 5.0 percent in 2008. Total expenditures are expected to have reached $527.6 billion in 2009. The expected increase is driven primarily by Medicaid spending in this category, which is projected to have grown 10.3 percent in 2009, compared to 8.9 percent in 2008. Projected private spending in this category also accelerated. . .due in part to care associated with the H1N1 virus.

“Total hospital spending is expected to have grown from 4.5 percent in 2008 to 5.9 percent in 2009, reaching $760.6 billion in 2009. This reflects a projected acceleration in hospital spending by public payers – up from 6.2 percent in 2008 to 8.0 percent in 2009 -due to increased enrollment. It also reflects growth in private hospital spending. .

“Prescription drug spending growth is expected to have grown 5.2 percent in 2009, reaching $246.3 billion. This 2.0 percentage point acceleration from 2008 is due to an increase in per person use of drugs, driven by the need for antiviral drugs to treat H1N1, and by higher price growth in brand-name drugs. By 2019, prescription spending is projected to reach $457.8 billion, with spending growth expected to accelerate over the projection period due primarily to increases in drug prices.”

I can understand why a practicing physician like “Arvind” would take issue with the idea that health spending is going up when Medicare payments aren’t keeping up with his costs. But the fact is that spending is going up because physicians (and hospitals) are treating more people and doing more for them, and more patients are getting ever more costly prescriptions. This is true, even though many doctors, especially primary care physicians, are underpaid for what you do.

Today’s question: What does the growth in spending say to you?

*This blog post was originally published at The ACP Advocate Blog by Bob Doherty*


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