We’re Using Less Health Care, But Spending is on a Rise

If you went to the doctor less or used fewer prescription drugs last year, but were surprised to learn that your health-care spending still went up, you’re not alone.

Spending per enrollee in employer-sponsored health plans—in other words, most Americans—grew an average of 3.9 percent in 2013, despite the fact that people were using less medical services overall, a new report out Tuesday reveals.

The relatively moderate growth for health-care costs would have been more dramatic if people with employer-based insurance had used the same amount or even more such services than they did last year.

In dollar terms, spending in 2013 grew an average of $183 to $4,864 per insured adult under age 65, according to the report by the Health Care Cost Institute.

The amounts include the cost borne by the employer-sponsored insurance plan as well as out-of-pocket payments borne by the insured adult.

The growing gap between prices and actual use was strikingly illustrated in the HCCI report by how much use of brand-name prescription drugs fell among employer-insured adults under age 65, compared to how the prices of those drugs grew.

In 2013, use of such brand-name drug prescriptions filled per day dropped 15.5 percent a compared to the prior year, HCCI found.

But the average price of brand-name drugs filled per day jumped more than 21.2 percent, leaving total spending overall on brand-name prescriptions up of 2.4 percent compared to 2013, the report found.

Likewise, a slight drop in acute in-patient admissions of 2.3 percent was more than offset by a 6.7 percent rise in overall in-patient spending, according to HCCI.

And a 6.4 percent bump up in prices for out-patient medical services significantly outpaced the very slight drop in the number of outpatient visits. This was also the first time in recent years that HCCI found a drop in outpatient visits.

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Jeffrey R. Ungvary President

Jeffrey R. Ungvary