U.S. health care spending grew at a faster pacethan expected in 2011, breaking a two-year trend of smaller costincreases, according to the Health Care Cost Institute.

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Costs for people with employer-sponsored insurance plans jumped4.6 percent in 2011, reaching $4,547 per person. This was wellabove the 3.8 percent growth rate observed in 2010 and beyondexpected growth for 2011, the Washington-based nonprofit groupsaid.

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Additionally, consumers spent more of their own dollars onhealth care in 2011, with out-of-pocket spending growing to $735per person—a $32 increase from 2010—while costs covered byinsurance grew at nearly the same rate. Spending levels grewfastest for outpatient services, for those ages 18 and younger, andthose in the Northeast region. Spending grew the slowest forprescriptions.

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“While it's hard to know whether this means spending levels aregoing to continue rising, it clearly is a signal that we have topay attention to,” says HCCI chair Martin Gaynor, an economicsprofessor at Carnegie Mellon University. “We need to continuestudying these data to see whether this acceleration in spendinggrowth is the beginning of an upward trend that will return us topre-recession levels.”

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With a sluggish economy, experts anticipated health care wouldgrow more modestly. Analysts at the institute attributed theincrease more to rising prices than increased utilization of thehealth care system.

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“Prices continue be the main culprit for rising health carecosts,” says HCCI Executive Director David Newman. “If we arereally going to get health care spending under control, we have tobetter understand why those prices are rising and the implicationsthose increases have for the U.S. health care budget.”

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The Health Care Cost Institute used data from 40 millionAmericans with private insurance provided by health plans such asAetna, UnitedHealth, Humana and Kaiser Permanente.

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