December 19, 2014

More Work Ahead on Health Care Costs

  • The American health care system is a patchwork of public and private programs that serve citizens in different ways, depending on their age, military...

The Supreme Court is keeping the country in suspense a little longer over its decision on the 2010 health care law. The ruling is now expected on Thursday, the last day of the court’s current term.

The law – seen by President Obama and other Democrats as a landmark achievement -- made numerous changes in the country’s health care system, increasing the number of insured Americans while attempting to curb rising costs. Republicans have called for repeal of the legislation, focusing particular criticism on the “individual mandate” requiring people to buy health insurance.

No matter how the high court rules, elected officials will need to focus greater effort on reining in health care costs in the future. The United States already spends far more on health care than other industrialized countries, and many experts agree that much of this spending is unnecessary or even counter-productive.

Rapid cost growth will put significant strain on the entire U.S. economy and, together with an aging population, is a key driver behind the projections of unsustainable levels of federal debt. Recent data indicates that some of this cost growth slowed because of the recession, but the long-term projections remain troubling.

So even if the Supreme Court leaves the law’s cost-containment provisions in place, elected officials will still have more work to do. If those provisions are thrown out, finding alternative ways to hold down costs will be even more essential – and should be done promptly, even in an election year.

Less popular features of the health care law were designed to make possible some of the more popular features. So in responding to the Supreme Court’s ruling, elected officials must resist the temptation to simply continue the popular ones without ensuring that they will be sustainable and responsibly financed.