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Health care spending is up. Way up. That’s because prices are up — not because we’re using more health care, according to newly published data from the Health Care Cost Institute.

Expand chart
Reproduced from HCCI 2016 Health Care Cost And Utilization Report Chart: Axios Visuals

The numbers that matter: Health care spending grew by 4.5% from 2015 to 2016, yet utilization was steady — or, in some cases, actually declined — during the same period. According to HCCI’s analysis, which is limited to employer-sponsored coverage, the increase in spending was driven by steep increases in prices.

  • Spending on prescription drugs is up 27% since 2012, driven by a roughly 25% jump in prices.
  • Prices for emergency-room care rose by about 30% over the same period.

Context: Other studies have come to similar conclusions. But one person’s prices are another person’s salary, and that’s why it’s so difficult to find any sort of political mechanism to keep price increases in check.

  • Conservatives want to bring down prices by making consumers responsible for more of their own health care costs, hoping to create something that looks more like a traditional consumer-goods market. But recent research suggests that approach doesn’t work.
  • Liberals tend to favor more direct government price controls — but some providers are already seeking higher and higher prices from commercial insurance to make up for the lower payments they receive from government programs.

Go deeper

Home confinees face imminent return to prison

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Thousands of prisoners who've been in home confinement for as long as a year because of the pandemic face returning to prison when it's over — unless President Biden rescinds a last-minute Trump Justice Department memo.

Why it matters: Most prisoners were told they would not have to come back as they were released early with ankle bracelets. Now, their lives are on hold while they wait to see whether or when they may be forced back behind bars. Advocates say about 4,500 people are affected.

The "essential" committee that still doesn't exist

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

Nearly five months after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced the creation of the bipartisan Select Committee on Economic Disparity and Fairness in Growth, it's not been formed much less met.

Why it matters: Select committees are designed to address urgent matters, but the 117th Congress is now nearly one-quarter complete without this panel assembling. When she announced this committee, Pelosi described it as an "essential force" to "combat the crisis of income and wealth disparity in America."

Biden's ethics end-around for labor

President Biden surveys a water treatment plant during a visit to New Orleans today. Photo: Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images

The Biden administration is excusing top officials from ethics rules that would otherwise restrict their work with large labor unions that previously employed them, federal records show.

Why it matters: Labor's sizable personnel presence in the administration is driving policy, and the president's appointment of top union officials to senior posts gives those unions powerful voices in the federal bureaucracy — even at the cost of strictly adhering to his own stringent ethics standards.