Health Care Costs 101: A Continuing Economic Threat

By Katherine Wilson

Teaser Graphic: Who paid for health care over the past 50 years?US health spending reached $3.3 trillion in 2016, or $10,348 per capita, and accounted for 17.9% of gross domestic product (GDP). Health spending slowed somewhat in 2016, following the coverage expansions of 2015 and 2014. National health spending increased 4.3% in 2016, down from 5.8% in 2015 and 5.1% in 2014. Despite this slowdown, 2016 health spending grew 1.5 percentage points faster than the economy (GDP grew at a rate of 2.8%).

Looking ahead, health spending is projected to grow at an average rate of 5.5% per year (1.0 points faster than the economy) between 2017 and 2026. At this rate, health care would consume a growing portion of the economy, totaling $5.7 trillion and accounting for one-fifth of GDP by 2026.

Health Care Costs 101: A Continuing Economic Threat, which relies on the most recent data available, details how much is spent on health care in the US, which services are purchased, and who pays.

Key findings include:

  • Per capita health spending increased 3.5% in 2016 and crossed the $10,000 per capita threshold for the first time.
  • Prescription drug spending declined dramatically from 8.9% in 2015 to 1.3% in 2016, driven in part by fewer new medications on the market, slower brand name drug spending, and reduced spending on generic drugs.
  • Households and the federal government each accounted for 28% of health spending in 2016.
  • As ACA coverage expansion matured in 2016, the rate of increase in federal spending slowed to 3.9%, lower than private business (5.0%) or households (4.6%).
  • Federal subsidies for ACA marketplace (individual coverage) premiums and cost sharing totaled $33 billion, accounting for 3.5% of federal health spending and 3.0% of private health insurance spending.
  • Public health insurance, including Medicare and Medicaid, paid the largest share of spending (41%) in 2016. Private health insurance paid for a third of health spending and consumers’ out-of-pocket spending accounted for 11%.

The full report, a quick reference guide, and all of the charts found in the report are available under Related Materials. Also available are the datafiles and previous years’ reports.  These materials are part of CHCF’s California Health Care Almanac, an online clearinghouse for key data and analyses describing the state’s health care landscape.