In health care policy circles, “bending the cost curve down” may qualify as the phrase of the decade. More than 1 million web search references are testament to its widespread use, intended to express a focus on reducing health care costs. Yet it should not surprise anyone familiar with technocratic vocabulary that there is no clear agreement on what the phrase means. Nonetheless, with health care spending nearing one-fifth of the nation’s gross domestic product, the nationwide clamor to “bend the cost curve down” is understandable. In this commentary, however, we discuss the shortfalls of focusing on costs alone and instead propose a national commitment to “bending the value curve up.”

Although finding ways to control health care spending is certainly important, focusing on cost alone is neither sufficient nor appropriate. Calling out costs in isolation may be disconcerting to many stakeholders, including those whose health care services...

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