People worry a lot about their health-care costs, such as the share they pay of their health premium or the size of their deductible. But they tend to have a harder time getting their heads around the measures experts use to talk about the national health-cost problem, such as health spending as a percentage of gross domestic product, or the rate of increase in national health spending, or the difference in per capita health spending in the U.S. vs. other countries. In a focus group I attended, a participant was asked whether he believed the Affordable Care Act would “bend the cost curve,” a concept often used to discuss health spending and to sell the ACA. His response: “I don’t know about bending any curves, but I don’t want to be bent.”
But there is good news for those who want to understand more. The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) has made a real contribution to making health spending more comprehensible by analyzing health spending and price growth by common diseases and diagnoses such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and even the common cold. Doing that makes the problem of health-care costs much more understandable for everyone, and it can help direct the attention of policymakers, health professionals, and health-care institutions to where health-care dollars are going.