Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios
All signs point to a crushing surge in health care costs for patients and employers next year — and that means health care industry groups are about to brawl over who pays the price.
Why it matters: The surge could build pressure on Congress to stop ignoring the underlying costs that make care increasingly unaffordable for everyday Americans — and make billions for health care companies.
[This special report kicks off a series to introduce our new, Congress-focused Axios Pro: Health Care, coming Nov. 14.]
- This year’s Democratic legislation allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices was a rare case of addressing costs amid intense drug industry lobbying against it. Even so, it was a watered down version of the original proposal.
- But the drug industry isn’t alone in its willingness to fight to maintain the status quo, and that fight frequently pits one industry group against another.
Where it stands: Even insured Americans are struggling to afford their care, the inevitable result of years of cost-shifting by employers and insurers onto patients through higher premiums, deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs.
- But employers are now struggling to attract and retain workers, and forcing their employees to shoulder even more costs seems like a less viable option.
- Tougher economic times make patients more cost-sensitive, putting families in a bind if they get sick.
- Rising medical debt, increased price transparency and questionable debt collection practices have rubbed some of the good-guy sheen off of hospitals and providers.
- All of this is coming to a boiling point. The question isn’t whether, but when.
Yes, but: Don’t underestimate Washington’s ability to have a completely underwhelming response to the problem, or one that just kicks the can down the road — or to just not respond at all.
Between the lines: If you look closely, the usual partisan battle lines are changing.
- The GOP’s criticism of Democrats’ drug pricing law is nothing like the party’s outcry over the Affordable Care Act, and no one seriously thinks the party will make a real attempt to repeal it.
- One of the most meaningful health reforms passed in recent years was a bipartisan ban on surprise billing, which may provide a more modern template for health care policy fights.
- Surprise medical bills divided lawmakers into two teams, but it wasn’t Democrats vs. Republicans; …….