A rising share of GDP

A rising share of GDP

U.S. spending on health care has grown steadily from 4.4% of gross domestic product in 1950 to 17.9% in 2011, and it is expected to keep rising. By 2021, health care could consume $1 of every $5 produced by the entire economy, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The Affordable Care Act of 2010 was motivated by a decades-long concern about the rising cost of health care, but it is far from clear whether the law will do much to stem the increase. Some experts say the increasing transparency of medical costs could put growing pressure on providers.

Theoretically, reducing the number of uninsured Americans and providing more preventive coverage also could slow the seemingly inexorable rise. But the jury is out, and experts say it will be years before the impact of the law on the cost of health care will be known.