August health spending, hospital prices grows

From one year ago, national health expenditures in August grew 3.8 percent, which equals the July rate and marks the fourth consecutive month of below 4 percent growth, according to the October Health Sector Economic Indicators briefs released by Altarum Institute’s Center for Sustainable Health Spending.

In 2012, the average rate of growth in spending is at 4.1 percent, short from the projected 2011 average of 5.2 percent, the report finds, and this helps calm fears of a new acceleration in overall health spending. Still, a jump in hospital prices contributed to higher overall health care prices in August 2012 at 2.4 percent, which is above its level from August 2011 and the highest reading in nearly two years.

The report also reveals that 44,000 health-sector jobs were created in September 2012 for the second-highest employment gain in a decade and much higher than the 24-month average of 25,000 jobs.

“Low health-spending growth in August plus downward revisions to earlier months highlight the moderate growth trend in 2012,” says Charles Roehrig, director of the center. “This slowing trend is consistent with recent reports of low premium increases for 2012 and suggests that the jump in 2011 spending was a blip rather than a new upward trend. We will, however, closely watch the employment and price escalations as their persistence could signal renewed spending increases. We will be particularly interested in whether September data confirm the spike in hospital prices observed in August.”

During July, the health spending share of gross domestic product dropped to 17.9 percent, which is under the record high of 18.3 percent in June 2011 yet substantially higher than 16.4 percent when the recession started in December 2007. In the last year, per capita health care utilization averaged 1.4 percent growth while it averaged 1 percent growth during the past six months.



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