There’s no question that health care costs must be reined in, both in Massachusetts and across the country. At Partners HealthCare, we’re working on new cost control ideas, and keeping a close watch on the health care industry at large to see how changing models of health care are impacting the communities we serve. Accountable care organizations, shared risk arrangements and population health management are among our most promising solutions, but we don’t yet know their effectiveness.
While there’s still much more to be done, a few findings from the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission’s (HPC) 2015 Cost Trends Report suggest that the Commonwealth is making progress. Here are three trends the HPC identified that put Massachusetts on the right track in reducing health care costs:
1. Premium growth is lower than the rest of the country. Family premiums increased by 4.4 percent in Massachusetts between 2011 and 2014. Nationally, family premiums grew by 10.9 percent. The same pattern appears when you look at individual plans during this same time period.
2. Out-of-pocket medical expenses are among the lowest in the U.S. Most Massachusetts residents pay less than 10 percent of their income out-of-pocket for health care expenses (excluding premiums). Only 11 percent of state residents paid more than that in 2013 and 2014 – one of the lowest percentages in the U.S.
3. Health care spending growth has slowed. Health care spending has grown more slowly since 2011, and overall health care costs have decreased to 22 percent of family income, on average.
To provide more affordable, higher-quality care in Massachusetts, there are many complex issues that health care providers still need to tackle, such as understanding price variation, finding a sustainable way to expand behavioral health care and creating the right incentives for patients to get care in the most appropriate, lowest-cost setting. But these initial findings are a useful benchmark of the progress made so far and show that it is possible to slow the rate of growth in health care costs.