Those of us who spend our time thinking about the fate of the nation's health and healthcare system have no shortage of things to be thankful for this holiday season.
Here are eight things that come immediately to mind:
1. The uninsured rate is at its lowest level in history.
The Census Bureau this year reported that the number of Americans who went without health insurance coverage throughout 2015 fell to 9.4% of the public, or 29.8 million people. That compares to 15.5% of the population, or 47.2 million people, in 2010, the year the Affordable Care Act passed.
2. Cost control is working.
Over the past eight years, overall healthcare spending grew only eight-tenths of a percentage point to a projected 18.1% of gross domestic product (the CMS will release exact numbers for 2015 on Dec. 2). By contrast, healthcare as a share of GDP rose 3.3 percentage points to 17.3% between 2001 and 2009.
3. Slower healthcare spending allowed other sectors of the economy to grow.
U.S. employers added 11.6 million jobs between February 2009 and last month, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. But healthcare accounted for just 1.2 million or 10% of those jobs—significantly less than its share of GDP. This is important because when healthcare grows faster than the rest of the economy, it takes dollars away from other activities. How would you rather spend your money: on a holiday turkey, or parked with your asthmatic kid in the emergency room?
4. The jobs that healthcare created paid higher wages.
The average weekly wage for all workers in healthcare rose 20.6% to $954 between February 2009 and last month, according to the BLS. The average weekly wage for all employees last month (which is driven up by including healthcare) was $729, which was up a slightly lower 19% from February 2009.
5. Hospitals have made significant progress in reducing unnecessary harm.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that between 2008 and 2014, America's hospitals reduced central line associated blood stream infections by 50%; reduced surgical site infections by 17%; and began making progress in reducing catheter-associated urinary tract infections.
6. Hospitals are making significant progress in reducing hospital-acquired, drug-resistant infections.
The CDC also reports that between 2011 and 2014, America's hospitals reduced Clostridium difficile infections by 8% and reduced MRSA bacteremia infections by 13%.
7. Prevention, public health and medical innovation are making progress in the fight against disease.
The National Cancer Institute reports that between 2003 and 2012, the overall cancer death rate decreased by 1.8% a year for men and 1.4% for women, largely from the ongoing war on smoking. Deaths from heart disease, the nation's No. 1 killer, fell to 193 per 100,000 population in 2014 from 258 per 100,000 in 2000, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.
8. There has been a significant reduction in health disparities.
Life expectancies for whites and blacks continue increasing, although the U.S. overall remains well below most of the rest of the advanced industrialized world. More worrisome, for middle-aged whites with less than a college education, longevity may be slipping backward, largely due to the drug and alcohol abuse epidemics disproportionately hitting that population.
Still, since the turn of the century, the average black male saw his lifespan increase five years to 72 while the average white male moved from 73 to 76. The same held true for black females, who went from five years behind their white counterparts in 2000 to three years behind in 2014, when the average white female lived to nearly 80.
There is undoubtedly more good news buried in the data, and I welcome our readers to contact us with their own observations. As we transition to a new political era, it's a useful exercise since these indicators can serve as benchmarks for measuring future progress.