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Discovery Lecture explores health care cost controls

Sep. 17, 2015, 9:34 AM

“There’s no magic bullet” to control rising health care costs in the United States, health law expert Timothy Jost, J.D. said during last week’s Flexner Discovery Lecture.

Jost, emeritus professor at the Washington and Lee University School of Law, discussed why U.S. health care costs are high, factors that impact the health care marketplace and strategies for reducing costs.

Timothy Jost, J.D., spoke about health care economics at his recent Flexner Discovery Lecture. (photo by John Russell)

“We have by far the most expensive health care system in the world,” Jost said. “We not only spend more money in absolute terms on health care; we also spend a higher proportion of our total wealth on health care.”

But the increased expenditures don’t result in better outcomes, he said.

“When compared to other countries, not only is life expectancy lower and infant mortality higher in the United States, studies show that mortality due to causes amenable to medical treatment is higher in the United States than in 16 other countries…we’re not doing well.”

What is the solution to controlling health care costs?

“I’m sorry to say there clearly isn’t one, not any one solution,” Jost said. “Any successful approach is going to have to involve a number of approaches.”

He pointed out that the Affordable Care Act (ACA) included a broad assortment of cost control measures aimed at consumers, payers, providers and government programs. Reduced growth in medical costs since adoption of the ACA suggests that some of its initiatives may be having an effect, he said.

A lack of political consensus on how best to control costs, however, has resulted in halfway solutions that allow costs to continue to grow.

“This can’t go on forever, we can’t spend 100 percent of our GDP on health care, or probably even 30 percent…there’s limits to how high we can go,” Jost said.

A combination of strategies is needed — involving consumers, payers, providers and the government — to actually cut costs, not just shift them, he concluded.

Jost’s lecture was the Patricia Townsend Meador Lectureship, sponsored by the Center for Biomedical Ethics & Society. For a complete schedule of the Flexner Discovery Lecture series and archived video of previous lectures, go to

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