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Cheap health insurance following the recession

Economists and those federal government folk who justify their existence by putting together a picture of economic activity say it takes at least two years for the effect of a recession to show up in national statistics and trends. This has nothing to do with the real-time counting of unemployment or the national debt. When there's a downturn, some market sectors actually improve their performance. So, for example, when the international value of the dollar falls, exports become more competitive and sales rise. To see a national pattern emerge therefore takes time as all the different state and federal agencies put together their numbers, and then send them up the line for a national picture to be drawn.

One of the numbers we have been waiting for is national healthcare spending. You will remember there are few controls on spending included in the Affordable Care Act, and those that will have an impact are not due to come into force until 2014. Despite this, there was only a marginal increase in 2010. In fact, it was the second-smallest increase over the last fifty years. So what factors have brought us to this point? Obviously, the consistently high levels of unemployment have reduced family incomes. Add in the fear of unemployment and those still in work have been paying down their debts and refusing discretionary spending. To maintain their profitability, insurers have been passing on more costs to us through higher deductibles and co-payments. More employers have been cutting their health benefits and passing on more of the cost to their employees. The net effect has been a significant reduction in the use of medical services. We have refused to consult physicians as often. We delay going to hospital until our conditions are too serious to ignore. We have been asking for fewer prescriptions. The result is the spending per head of population was $8,402 in 2010.

The effect of this on the insurance industry and the healthcare services sector has been profound. Faced with declining revenues and knowing that families do not have the cash or savings to spend freely, they have held their costs. The pharmaceutical industry has been hardest hit. Many drugs have now run out of patent protection and generic drugs mean big savings to us. Big Pharma is also struggling because fewer new drugs are coming through the pipeline. Unless there are some scientific breakthroughs soon, the profitability of drug manufacture will decline dramatically.

The result for us at a national level is mostly good news. The rise of insurance rates has slowed significantly. Although you may have seen increases in your last renewal notices or your employer may have passed on more of the cost to you, the trend is in your favor. Should the trend continue, you will see your costs falling. Why so? Because almost 6 million people fell out of private insurance in 2009. A further 3.7 million discontinued insurance in 2010. This is not sustainable and, to counter the trend, the health insurance quotes for 2012 will moderate if not fall. This is not to raise false hopes with the promise of cheap health insurance tomorrow. But simply to reflect an economic reality that, when we are a stone, we cannot be forced to give up blood to the insurance industry.


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