The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that surging hospital prices are helping to keep inflation high.









Hospital costs rose 7.7% last month, the highest increase in 13 years. This chart from WSJ’s reporting illustrates the >2x change in the CPI for hospitals vs the overall rate of price increases.

Hospitals are not alone in price cliffs, with health insurance premiums spiking last year at the fastest rate in a decade, the Labor Statistics data showed.

“For patients and their employers, the increases have meant higher health-insurance premiums, as well as limiting wage hikes,” Melanie Evans explained.

This story added to my ongoing thinking about inflation and health care in the U.S., and how that nexus is impacting Americans’ well-being across the many dimensions of “health:” physical, financial mental, and social.






In this vein, an April 11th tweet captured my attention, tweeted by one LL Gabagool Jay. He originally tweeted this in March 2022, and retweeted last month given the fact that Americans’ perceptions of the economy are at best, subdued.

Jay captured my imagination here with “Kirkland” reference, replacing the luxury brand Prada with Kirkland’s private label store brand, Costco. That is clever shorthand communicating that Americans are making more thoughtful decisions about spending when they have options to do so. And health care is embedded in these decisions in addition to laundry detergent purchases and searching for lower-priced petrol.

New research in The Lancet this week looks into inflation and health on a global level. This is one of the few meta-analyses of its scope exploring the nexus of inflation and health, examining 69 studies across a range of health-related risk factors such as diet, substance use, stress, and violence, as well as health outcomes — life expectancy, mortality, suicidality, and mental health conditions among them.

While the researchers call out gaps in the literature for this topic, they identified, overall, negative effects of inflation on the various health risk factors and health outcomes. Furthermore, certain socioeconomic groups were found to be more at-risk than others with respect to inflation’s impact on health.









Not being able to pay medical costs of a serious illness or accident is a worry for 56% of Americans. we see, moving our lens from the global to the U.S. national, Gallup’s looking at us now, finding Americans more somber about personal finances than people were in 2021.

“All income groups remain less positive about their financial situation now compared with 2021,” Gallup observes in survey data collected among U.S. adults in April, 2024.







Health Populi’s Hot Points:  In this economy then, if The Devil Wears Kirkland, are consumers adopting Costco-like behaviors for health care decisions that are shoppable?

Our friends at Circana who analyze retail data say indeed, it is absolutely clear that health consumers are adapting spending habits through more thoughtful decisions — and those include health care choices when a health citizen chooses to vote with their out-of-pocket medical spending pocketbook.

This action depends on shoppability, price transparency, the ability to migrate to the choice within the constraints of the consumers’ health plan network or willingness-to-pay for the alternative, and personal ethos of empowerment.







In scenarios I’ve developed to brainstorm with a panel at the upcoming AHIP 2024 Conference in Las Vegas, I’ve identified four persona of shoppers (or not) for health care in America in 2030:

  • Health consumers in a retail health-for-all environment
  • CEOs of one’s health care, driven by individualism and private payment
  • Health citizens, connected by one world/one health and a sense of public/community connection; and,
  • The castaway, dealing with a fragmented, bureaucratic health care labyrinth lacking systemness.

In scenario planning, we deal with certainties, uncertainties, and wild cards that can dramatically shift the terrain of our best-laid plans. I remain certain that The Devil Will Continue to Wear Kirkland for the coming year, depending on the uncertainty of interest rate cuts, employer wage agreements, and a possible next-pandemic (which falls between uncertainty and wild card these days).

Another uncertainty which before now would have been a wild card for my toolkit is that Costco might consider — shock! horror! — raising the price of its consumer-beloved hot dog meal above its high-value $1.50 price tag. In a fair market picture, the price could be rationalized at $4.50.

If that happens, we’ll stay tuned to an update to LL Gabagool Jay’s tweetstream.