It was only yesterday that we were told that, according to the National Institutes of Health, the cost of medical care for the nation’s 3.5 million Americans had increased from $7,766 per capita in 2001 to $12,764 in 2011.
Yet, despite these startling numbers, the truth is that, in fact, health care spending is actually declining, according the latest analysis from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
And while the report says that this is partly due to changes in Medicare payments to providers, its findings also suggest that the nation may be spending far less on health care today than it did a decade ago.
The CBO found that the number of Americans with health insurance declined in the last decade.
The agency found that from 2003 to 2011, the number that had health insurance decreased from 1.3 million to 1.0 million.
The decline was much more dramatic for older Americans.
The average age of Americans who had health coverage dropped from 62 to 55, the CBO found, while the average age at which they became uninsured increased from 18 to 28.
That means that while overall the number at risk of having health insurance dropped by more than 50 percent over that time, the proportion of Americans without health insurance actually increased.
According to the CBO, the share of Americans 65 and older with health coverage increased from 15 percent in 2003 to 17 percent in 2011, while people under 65 with coverage dropped by 6 percent.
The CBO also found that in 2011 the share that had insurance declined by 9 percentage points among those 65 and over, and by more that 13 percentage points for the uninsured.
For people who are insured, the biggest cost savings in the recent past were in health care.
According to the report, people with employer-sponsored insurance saw a significant increase in spending on prescription drugs, dental services, vision and hearing aids and physical therapy.
As the chart below shows, the ACA’s premium subsidies for insurance plans covered by the tax credits have also increased in the past decade, while out-of-pocket expenses have dropped.
The chart also shows that the overall number of uninsured has decreased from 4.1 million in 2003, to 3.3 m.
In 2011, however, it fell by 1.1 m.
It is worth noting that, while these numbers may not come as a surprise to those of us who have been following the health care debate for the past several years, they do point to the fact that, as of now, Americans are spending far more than they did in 2001, when the ACA passed, even though we now have an increasingly robust economy.
In other words, while our nation’s health care system has become increasingly robust, we have not yet found the answers to many of the challenges that plague our health care infrastructure.
There is one reason for that, however: We are still spending far too much.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t say that our health spending is growing in real terms and the number is increasing,” said Mark Shulman, vice president for health policy at the Kaiser Family Foundation, who was not involved in the analysis.
Shulman pointed to a recent report by the Government Accountability Office that found that, between 2007 and 2011, health spending per person declined by 3.2 percent.
It is possible that the decline in spending was due to the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, which helped lower costs for consumers, including for many seniors.
Or, it could be that we have just gotten used to spending more, or that we simply haven’t been paying as much as we should.
“What is clear is that our spending in the health-care sector is still too high,” he said.
But even if our nation is now spending more than it should on health, the question remains: How long will this trend continue?
Even if our current health care systems are failing, how long will they last?
“When you look at our costs, they are growing faster than inflation.
So the question is: Are we getting to that point where we have to spend a little bit more, but not too much,” Shulmans said.
“The reality is, we don’t have that answer yet.
We have to continue to have some reforms and improve the way we do things.”
Follow NBC Asian America on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr.