Fact or fiction? Premiums will keep going up

Claim: Your health care costs are going up no matter what happens with the proposed insurance reform in Congress.

Over the past 30 years, U.S. health care spending has grown nearly 3 percent a year faster, on average, than the rest of the economy. According to Stanford University economist Victor Fuchs, this increase has been mostly due to advances in medical technology. Cost containment — denying payment for inefficient tests and procedures — will take years to implement and has proven politically difficult for Congress to impose in the past. Meanwhile, Congress is trying to solve the problem of cost shifting — hospitals passing the cost of treating the uninsured on to insured patients. As more healthy uninsured people are required to buy insurance, it will lessen that cost shifting and help hold down the cost of premiums.

Fact or fiction?
A little of both. According to Senate Finance Committee chairman Max Baucus, D- Mont., cost-shifting accounts for 8 percent of the average health insurance premium. If his bill becomes law, it should reduce that figure. But his committee watered down the penalty for being uninsured — from $3,800 to $750 — so some of the uninsured may continue to opt out of coverage — thus perpetuating the cost-shift problem. Whether a person’s insurance costs will be higher or lower if a Democratic bill becomes law depends on individual circumstances. Many lower-income uninsured people are sure to see their costs go up. They’re paying zero now; they’d be paying a modest taxpayer-subsidized amount under the Baucus reform.

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