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Published: Monday, 2/8/2010

Feeding health care

THE numbers are enough to make you sick, but that would compound the health-care spending crisis that Congress can't seem to address. If anything screams for reform, it is the latest information showing how desperately high federal spending on health care is and is expected to become.

Economists at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services say health-care spending grew to a record 17.3 percent of the U.S. economy in 2009. Last year saw the largest one-year jump in health care's share of the economy since the government started keeping the records 50 years ago.

Analysts predict that for the first time, government could pick up more than half of the nation's total health-care tab as early as next year. By 2020, according to the projections, about one in five dollars spent in the nation will go to health care.

The dire forecasts about the burden of government health programs on federal and state budgets worsen with rising costs and shrinking numbers of people with health coverage. In Ohio, Medicaid spending has risen to record levels. In the past year, Medicaid rolls grew by 154,000 Ohioans, the largest caseload growth in nearly seven years. An infusion of federal stimulus aid allowed the state to maintain eligibility levels and services despite its budget crisis. But what will happen after the support is exhausted is worrisome.

Whether it's tens of billions in state expenditures for health care or the estimated $2.5 trillion spent on health care nationwide in 2009, costs that are growing at historical rates cannot be sustained indefinitely.

The cost of doing nothing with stalled health bills in Congress is clear. Without reform, there will be bitter medicine to take as the growth of health-care spending continues to outpace the overall U.S. economy.

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