The Bureau of Labor Statistics acute-care hospital Producer Price Index
remained unchanged in May. The data—the broader of two federal inflation measures—are the latest to potentially ease fears of a possible sharp acceleration in healthcare spending this year.
The price data follow new health-spending survey data that showed far weaker demand for hospital and physician services between January and March than had been projected in an April federal estimate.
That survey data captured a surprising deceleration in health spending on hospitals, physician visits and other healthcare services in January, February and March compared with the prior three months, said Charles Roehrig, vice president and director of the Altarum Center for Sustainable Health Spending.
Health spending increased 2.9% in the first quarter this year, compared with spending the same quarter a year ago. The growth rate for the fourth quarter of 2013 was 4.9%. “Instead of it going up, it went down,” Roehrig said. “We didn't expect it to be this low.” The numbers prompted Altarum to delay release of its monthly spending brief
The harsh winter weather and the last-minute insurance enrollment surge in March under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act may have contributed to the lower spending numbers, Roehrig said.
A new federal estimate for U.S. healthcare spending won't be released until June 25
Acute-care hospital prices for the fiscal year that ended in May increased 1.9%, identical to growth the prior year.
Physician office prices increased 0.1% in May after a drop of 0.1% the prior month. During that same fiscal year-end in May, physician office prices climbed 0.7%, compared with no price changes the prior year.
Healthcare prices have edged upward from extremely low-growth rates, but still remain historically low, said Paul Hughes-Cromwick, a senior health economist with the Altarum Institute.Follow Melanie Evans on Twitter: @MHmevans