5 Things We’re Reading on Health Care Costs

This week’s reads on health care costs include three takes on spending growth and two cases of baffling drug prices.

Health care spending continues to increase …

Total health care spending increased 4.3 percent in 2016, reaching $3.3 trillion, or 17.9 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product. Much of the growth came from out-of-pocket spending, according to federal actuaries. Read the report published in Health Affairs.

… Does a $1,877 ear piercing show us why? …

ProPublica took a deep dive into how “unnecessary or needlessly expensive care” contributes to high health care spending. Examples include a $1,877.86 charge for ear piercing — a service a surgeon offered to perform on a patient during another routine procedure. Read the full piece for more.

… An expert disputes waste is the culprit

Dr. Robert Dubois, executive vice president and chief science officer of the National Pharmaceutical Council, argues inappropriate care isn’t the real culprit behind high health care spending. “We must abandon the simplistic idea that we can easily solve our spending problem by eliminating wasteful care,” he wrote in a Health Affairs blog post. Read the post in full here.

One pill’s price fluctuates from free to $109,500 a year

A drug initially approved in 1958 has had several prices over the years, changing from $50 for 100 pills, to $13,650 for 100 pills, back down to free and then up as high as $109,500 for a year-long treatment. The Washington Post explores what causes this phenomenon.

Why has a vaccine’s price grown 50% in eight years?

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends Prevnar 13 — a vaccine to protect against pneumonia — for children younger than 2 and for adults 65 years old and older. Pfizer makes the vaccine, and prices have mysteriously increased about 5 percent to 6 percent each year. Read Kaiser Health News’ investigation into what causes the price hikes.


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