Insurer initiatives temper rising healthcare costs

Insurers' initiatives, including increasing the use of consumer-directed health plans, better educating consumers and shifting away from fee-for-service payments, will help prevent healthcare costs from jumping by double-digit percentages, according to a new study from the PricewaterhouseCoopers Health Research Institute.

Assuming health plans remain the same, PwC has predicted medical costs will rise by 6.8 percent in 2015, an increase from a projected growth of 6.5 percent this year. But since PwC expects insurers will change their plans, including raising deductibles, the growth in total cost of care will likely slow to 4.8 percent.

"There are a lot of things happening that are keeping the medical cost trend in check," Rick Judy, principal in PwC's Health Industries Advisory practice, told Forbes.

For example, more employers are offering high-deductible health plans, large hospital systems are operating more efficiently and effectively, and insurers are implementing more value-based payment models. Accountable care organizations, in particular, are starting to bear fruit by saving costs and boosting quality. Plus, Judy added, "the consumer is more cost-conscious."

Some unknowns could still impact healthcare costs, however. In particular, new specialty medications like hepatitis C drug Sovaldi could contribute 0.2 percent to total spending growth next year, the PwC report found. Sovaldi costs $1,000 a pill and more than $80,000 for a course of treatment per patient, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

"It's just a very interesting dilemma for the industry," Judy said.

Other factors with the potential to affect costs include an improving economy, which could lead to more consumers using healthcare services, and hospitals acquiring doctor practices, which allows hospitals to charge more for services.

To learn more:
- here's the PwC study
- read the Forbes article