New Census Bureau data may play into future healthcare finance projections

An obscure federal measure of productivity and growth may have a growing consequence for healthcare delivery and the financial success of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Wall Street Journal reported.

The indicator, known as the Quarterly Services Survey, or QSS, measures the revenues generated by service provider businesses, including hospitals. The data, which is compiled by the U.S. Census Bureau, accounts for roughly one-fifth of the nation's gross domestic product.

Healthcare revenue actually dropped in the first quarter, contrary to the consensus of economists that the rollout of the ACA would prompt consumers to spend more, according to the Wall Street Journal. Initial projections stated that overall spending in the economy had grown by more than 9 percent during the quarter. The surprise QSS number brought the revised figure into negative territory.

The QSS for the second quarter is slated for release this Thursday, and the contrary first-quarter numbers means healthcare observers will take a close look at the data. "We're all eagerly waiting to see what that's going to say," Charles Roehrig, director of the Altarum Institute's Center for Sustainable Health Spending, told the Wall Street Journal.

Altarum's Roehrig noted that overall healthcare spending has been slow as of late. Last year, it grew only 2.9 percent, a clip that Roehrig said was a "surprise." However, figures released last March indicated that it grew at a much faster rate during the fourth quarter of last year.

However, others have criticized relying on the QSS too heavily to gauge the direction of healthcare spending and the economy as a whole. Economist Diane Coyle said the QSS is a holdover from the mid-20th century, when the U.S. economy was much more heavily geared toward manufacturing. "That's not the economy we have now," she told the Wall Street Journal.

To learn more:
- read the Wall Street Journal article (subscription may be required)
- check out the QSS website