Finally, Some Good News About Health Care Costs

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For years, health insurance news has been steadily depressing. But for families that are concerned about their health insurance costs, there's a definite glimmer of hope: As Sarah Kliff recently pointed out in The Washington Post, the rate of growth in health care costs has dropped dramatically in the past few years.

Kliff cites two pieces of evidence: The first is the 2012 National Health Expenditures report, which showed that health care costs -- projected to rise at a steadily increasing rate for decades -- had actually achieved a steady state of growth, basically 3.9 percent a year. The second is a recent survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, which found that health care premiums rose 4 percent in 2013, almost a full percentage point less than in 2012. That's the lowest rate of growth in roughly 20 years.

It's not stunningly good news. While their rate of growth has slowed, health care costs and health insurance premiums are continuing to rise. Meanwhile, deductibles -- the amount that families have to pay before their benefits kick in -- are also going up, partly as a result of the growing popularity of high-deductible/low-cost insurance plans.

But there are also other reasons for the drop. The increased use of generic drugs has lowered costs, helped by the Affordable Care Act, or "Obamacare," which has eased restrictions. For that matter, general streamlining in the medical profession and increased efficiency among providers also might be helping to keep costs down.

To put Wednesday's modestly good news in context, last year's (comparatively) low 4.9 percent increase in health insurance premiums left experts predicting that rates would have to increase by 6.3 percent in 2013 in order to catch up. Instead, they went up only 4 percent. It's a small ray of sunshine, but in the context of consistently depressing health care news, any ray of sunshine is noteworthy.

Bruce Watson is DailyFinance's Savings Editor. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.


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