The Decade-Long Slowdown in U.S. Healthcare Spending (in a Graph)

There haven't been many happy stories to cut through the doom and gloom surrounding America's out-of-control, paycheck eating, budget-busting healthcare costs. But here's one of them, graphed by researchers at the Altarum Institute. Over the past decade, the growth of total U.S. medical spending has actually slowed by about half, falling from an annual rate of more than 8 percent in 2003 to 4 percent in 2012 (health spending growth in BLUE; overall economic growth in RED): 

Altarum_Institute_Health_Care_Spending.PNG

Does this mean we can stop worrying about the cost of Medicare 10 years or 20 years down the line? Sadly not. Remember, this is the tally of all private and public expenditures, and as more Americans age, their treatment needs will eventually swamp the federal budget. But -- as Annie Lowrey reported in the New York Times yesterday -- these numbers do suggest that doctors and insurers have at least begun to get a handle on expenses. While some of the slowdown can be credited to patients cutting back during the recession, the trend started before the economy fell apart and has lasted into the recovery.

But here's a red flag: The rate hasn't dropped much in the last few years. Instead, it's stayed roughly even, ranging between 3.5 percent and 5 percent a year since 2010. 

So our out-of-control healthcare spending has gotten a bit less out of control. Think of it as a sign that our problems can be fixed, rather than one that they'll eventually fix themselves. 

Presented by

Jordan Weissmann is a senior associate editor at The Atlantic.

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

What Happened to the Milky Way?

Light pollution has taken away our ability to see the stars. Can we still save the night sky?

Video

The Faces of #BlackLivesMatter

Scenes from a recent protest in New York City

Video

Desegregated, Yet Unequal

A short documentary about the legacy of Boston busing

Video

Ruth Bader Ginsburg on Life

The Supreme Court justice talks gender equality and marriage.

Video

Social Media: The Video Game

What if the validation of your peers could "level up" your life?

Video

The Pentagon's $1.5 Trillion Mistake

The F-35 fighter jet was supposed to do everything. Instead, it can barely do anything.

More in Business

Just In