The big health policy parlor game for the past few years has been to ask: How much of this change is cyclical, owing to the recession, or structural, partially due to the health law's payment reforms?
The White House has long argued that the changes are structural, and it made that case again Wednesday in a briefing with reporters.
"The slowdown is indisputable," Council of Economics Advisers chairman Jason Furman said. "A very important part of that is structure, and a very important part of the structural story is the Affordable Care Act."
Most health care economists now agree, at least to some extent, with this more structural view. Even those who argue that the current slowdown is unlikely to last, such as Harvard's Amitabh Chandra and Dartmouth's Jonathan Skinner, still expect slower health care cost growth in the next decade compared with the previous one.
And in some cases, that translates into better health care, too. This chart from the council's report shows a significant drop in preventable readmissions to hospitals (when treatment goes wrong the first time and the patient must return to the hospital). That happened right around the time Medicare began penalizing such return trips to the hospitals.
Cost savings aside, that's great news for patients, suggesting that the quality of care hospitals are delivering is improving at the same time that spending on that care is slowing down.