Monday, January 17, 2011

National Health Spending Growth Held to Record-breaking Low... American Medical News

By Doug Trapp, amednews staff

The most recent economic recession slowed the growth of national health spending to 4% in 2009 -- the slowest rate since at least 1960. Patients delayed elective care and limited out-of-pocket spending, in part because millions of people lost private health coverage.

However, the percentage of the nation's gross domestic product devoted to health care increased to 17.6% in 2009, a full percentage point higher than in 2008, because health spending grew at a faster pace than the economy as a whole. Overall health spending reached $2.49 trillion, according to an annual report on national health spending by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Office of the Actuary, published online Jan. 5 in the journal Health Affairs.

"The slowdown was widespread among all health care goods and services," said Anne Martin, CMS economist and report co-author.

But the recession -- which officially lasted from December 2007 to June 2009 -- particularly affected physicians, dentists and nursing facilities, and it did so faster than in previous recessions, she said.

The two major exceptions to restrained spending increases in 2009 were retail prescription drugs, which rebounded from historically low growth in 2008, and home health care. Drug spending growth was driven by higher drug prices and increased utilization, partly because of the influenza A (H1N1) pandemic.

Patient out-of-pocket spending experienced a historic deceleration in 2009, growing by only 0.4%, or 2.7 percentage points slower than in 2008. This was driven partly by the first decline in dental spending since at least 1960 but also by slower growth in spending on physicians and clinical services, nursing care and other sectors of the health system, the report found.
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