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Americans spent about $3.5 trillion on health care in 2017. Photo: Andy Cross / The Denver Post via Getty Images

Americans continue to spend a lot of money on health care. Don't expect that to change. New preliminary federal data show annual health care spending climbed 4.6% to $3.5 trillion in 2017 — higher than the 4.3% growth rate in 2016 and still a lot higher than the broader inflation rate.

The bottom line: The new data reinforce the point that hospital visits, doctor appointments, surgeries, prescriptions and other health care services are gobbling up more of the U.S. economy right now and in the future at the expense of other societal priorities.

The big picture: The data are from independent actuaries within the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. They predict national health spending will increase by 5.5% on average every year between 2017 and 2026. Projecting health care spending is imprecise and difficult, but some of the major reasons why the growth rate is ticking back up from historical lows:

  • Prices are bouncing back up.
  • Higher Medicare payments to hospitals and doctors than in prior years, as well as more intense use of health care services from baby boomers and other Medicare beneficiaries.
  • People who had Affordable Care Act plans used a lot of health care, which raised premiums.
  • Prescription drug prices, arguably the industry's biggest bugaboo these days.

A factor not considered: Consolidation, which a House hearing covered today.

Looking ahead: Growth in Medicare and Medicaid spending will only increase faster as more Americans get older and poorer. And the amount spent on people with private insurance will still rise quickly even though high-deductible plans are stunting demand.

Get smart: Prices remain the major driving force behind the country's ballooning health care tab.

Go deeper

Updated 5 mins ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a potentially historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Jan. 6 panel subpoenas "alternate" Trump electors

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) addresses the media after a House Jan. 6 select committee hearing in July 2021. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on Friday announced subpoenas for more than a dozen people who led groups of "alternate electors" for former President Trump.

Why it matters: Slates of fake electors organized by pro-Trump forces in the wake of the 2020 election have come under intense scrutiny in recent weeks around the one-year anniversary of the attack.

Swastikas found outside Union Station in D.C.

People walk through Union Station on Jan. 16 in Washington, D.C. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Drawings of swastikas appeared etched around the entrance to Union Station in Washington, D.C., on Friday morning.

Driving the news: "An investigation is underway with Amtrak Police and the Metropolitan Police Department after swastikas were reported on the exterior of Washington Union Station on Friday," Amtrak spokesperson Kimberly Woods said in a statement to Axios.

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