WASHINGTON (AP) – Health spending in the United States soared to $ 4.1 trillion last year as Congress turned on the tap of federal dollars to fight the coronavirus pandemic on several fronts.
A government report released on Wednesday said national health spending jumped 9.7% in 2020, more than double the usual growth rate, with health care accounting for nearly $ 1 in $ 5 in the economy. . The federal government‘s share of health spending increased by 36%.
In a twist, this growth has not been driven so much by dedicated patient care, but by federal grants to keep hospitals and medical providers solvent; funding to develop and deploy COVID tests, vaccines, treatments and countermeasures; and assisting state Medicaid programs in the face of a potential wave of uninsured people in a public health crisis.
“The story that unfolded in 2020 and continues today is unlike anything that has happened in the past 100 years,” the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid number calculators report said. Services. Published online by the journal Health Affairs, the report is an annual benchmark measuring the impact of health care on the economy as a whole.
Last year, as elective surgeries were canceled and telehealth replaced office visits, Congress overwhelmingly approved bipartisan measures that have spent tens of billions of dollars to prevent the private health system from collapsing. .
Besides direct federal spending on COVID countermeasures and Medicaid money for states, the strategy has largely worked, said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, former director of the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office and longtime political advisor Republicans.
“The COVID cases have kept hospitals from having their usual business volume,” Holtz-Eakin said. “The federal government’s bailout money was really important when other sources dried up.” A $ 122 billion supplier relief fund, through which hospitals could claim taxpayer dollars to make up for their losses, was the keystone.
“When I look at 2020 it wasn’t perfect, but I think Congress deserves high marks for what it has done,” added Holtz-Eakin.
The $ 4.1 trillion tab for 2020 represents an increase of about $ 365 billion over national health spending in 2019. This equates to $ 12,530 per person.
In other highlights, the report found:
– The number of uninsured people has not swelled with the job losses, but has remained fairly stable at around 30 million. This confirms earlier reports from the Census Bureau. However, there has been a shift in coverage, with fewer people covered in the workplace and more people receiving their health care through the Medicaid and Affordable Care Act markets.
– Medicare lists grew more slowly in the first year of the pandemic, but part of that was because people were dying. “The deceleration is due in part to an increase in mortality in the population aged 65 and over as a result of the pandemic,” the report said. Seniors accounted for 14% of COVID cases, but 80% of deaths.
– Increased federal funding for Medicaid has helped ease the financial burden of the pandemic on state and local governments. State and local funded health spending declined by about 3% in 2020. The federal share of Medicaid spending was around 69% in 2020, the highest percentage in 50 years and more of the program.
– Direct health expenditure by individuals fell by 3.7%, which is rare. This was in large part due to the postponement of surgeries, dental care, and diagnostic procedures such as colonoscopies. Employers who fund health insurance coverage for their workers also spent less.
“The bipartisan federal relief effort in 2020 was critical to strengthening the U.S. health care system and helping millions of people stay insured during a national public health emergency – this data provides hard evidence,” the economist said. Sara Collins Health of the non-partisan Commonwealth Fund, which works to expand access. “This is absolutely the story of a large, two-party federal relief effort that worked.”
But this year, Americans are politically polarized over vaccine mandates and mask requirements, and COVID-19 is likely to have a continuing impact on healthcare spending in the United States.
“There will likely be noticeable effects from the widespread vaccination efforts that began in the spring of 2021 and the emergence of the delta variant in the summer,” the report said. “Uncertainty remains as to how the pandemic might evolve during the winter months given the emergence of the omicron variant. ”