We examined trends in per capita spending for Medicare beneficiaries ages sixty-five and older in the United States in the period 1999–2012 to determine why spending growth has been declining since around 2005. Decomposing spending by condition, we found that half of the spending slowdown was attributable to slower growth in spending for cardiovascular diseases. Spending growth also slowed for dementia, renal and genitourinary diseases, and aftercare for people with acute illnesses. Using estimates from the medical literature of the impact of pharmaceuticals on acute disease, we found that roughly half of the reduction in major cardiovascular events was attributable to medications controlling cardiovascular risk factors. Despite this substantial cost-saving improvement in cardiovascular health, additional opportunities remain to lower spending through disease prevention and control.

The 2020 presidential election will be consequential for the future of health reform, with the two major-party nominees taking very different views on the future of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), as well as the policies needed to lower health costs and continue to expand access to coverage. The Republican nominee will likely signal broad opposition to the ACA and a desire to replace it with a state innovation–based approach to reform, based on the Graham-Cassidy-Heller-Johnson legislation considered by the Senate in the fall of 2017. This article takes that legislation as a starting point, contextualizes it within the broader health reform discussion, and suggests ways to improve upon it to enhance the affordability of and access to coverage and to ensure that states have adequate flexibility to implement their policy goals.