Wednesday, January 11, 2012

A blip or a sign of the times

Health care spending has slowed drastically. In 2010 and 2009, health care costs grew at a paltry 3.9% which were the lowest increases in decades.

"The main reason for the slowdown was that Americans were more frugal in their use of health care, from postponing elective surgery to using generic drugs and thinking twice about that late-night visit to the emergency room."

So when the economy tanked in 2008, people started to cut back on their spending, including health care - which is usually the last thing to be cut. One side of the argument on why this happened is employers are putting more downward pressure on health care costs - in other words this would be a sign of the times and will continue to happen. On the other side is that people are simply postponing what they can and when the economy picks up, the costs will go back up - in other words this would be just a blip.

My take on this is that in the latest economic debacle/bank bailout/mortgage scandal/foreclosure central, the impact on the economy forced many people to make deeper decisions with longer term impact in their lives.We see these little decisions everywhere. When we go to the grocery store we now bring our own bags. This used to be considered a 'crunchy granola' decision at best. In addition we bring our own bags to lots of other stores or skip bags for smaller purchases we would automatically take in the past. Walkability indexes are now available - mine is a 62 in case you were wondering.

We consider gas mileage in a car purchase - something that hasn't received such scrutiny since the gas crisis of the 1970's. We shop at farmer's markets. 10 years ago there was one local one, now there is one in almost every nearby town, six months of the year. We care where our food comes from - produce, seafood, and meat. Alternative medicines are now in the forefront - acupuncture, naturopaths, etc. We don't just look for an MD after a doctor's name when we go for treatment, we want other credentials. The concept of integrated and personalized medicine are apparent.

I think with out of the economic downturn, people have changed a lot of their values. People think about their pennies and what they put in their bodies. This has gone on to affect health care spending and acceptance of alternatives and new ideas in treatment. If you had said to me 18 months ago, would I ever consider acupuncture - I would have said an emphatic no. Now I go every two weeks.

So I think this is more of a sign of the times - not that employers are helping reduce costs but that patients are people and are making their decisions more carefully. They look for alternatives to the ER, they look for homeopathic treatments instead of rushing to their primary care. I think this will go on.

1 comment:

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