You may not have noticed, but health care costs are rising more slowly than they used to.

The rate of growth started to decline during the Great Recession, and the trend has continued since then. Costs rose by an average of 6.5% between 2005 and 2007, just before the recession began, and by an average of 3.9% between 2009 and 2013, since it ended.

When the Affordable Care Act was passed in 2010, the government projected that national spending on health care would reach $3.302 trillion in 2014. The actual number turned out to be almost $250 billion less - $3.057 trillion. Still a huge amount of money, but not quite as huge as experts had thought.

The slowdown is expected to continue. The projection for spending in 2019 had been $4.572 trillion. It has been cut to $4.029 trillion.

But unless you are a health policy analyst, you may not have noticed.

That's because most people focus on what they, themselves, are paying, not what the overall health care system costs. And for those with employer-sponsored coverage, the slowdown may be hard to see.

In a Kaiser Family Foundation poll conducted in August 2013, well after the slowdown in cost increases had begun, 52% of respondents thought health insurance premiums were rising faster than usual. Only 3% thought they were rising more slowly.

That could be because premiums for employer-sponsored coverage rose by 69% between 2004 and 2014, while average wages rose by only about 20%. The rate of increase in premiums for employment-sponsored coverage has recently started to decline, but it is still higher than the rate of inflation.

More importantly for workers' pocketbooks, the amount they must contribute for coverage increased by 81% during this time. And the percent of workers enrolled in high deductible plans, those that require payment of several thousand dollars before coverage kicks in, rose from 8% in 2009 to 26% in 2014.

In the long run, a smaller rate of health care inflation will mean lower insurance premiums and lower federal deficits. It will also cut the price tag for Obamacare.

In the meantime, the cost of health care remains a major concern for many. A few provisions in the Affordable Care Act have made a start at trying to bring it under control, but much more work lies ahead.


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