Healthcare spending growth slowed to its lowest level in three years as insured patients passed up increasingly costly care when faced with higher copayments and deductibles, according to a new study by the Center for Studying Health System Change, Washington. Spending for privately insured Americans rose 8.5% in the first half of 2003, down from a 10% increase in the second half of 2002. That's the sharpest six-month drop since the early 1990s, and could prompt a slowdown in premium increases next year, the study found. Prescription drug spending growth slowed the most, rising only 8.5% in the first half of the year, down from 13.4% in the second half of 2002. Spending on hospital inpatient care grew 7.6%, down from 8.3%. Spending on outpatient care, still the fastest growing healthcare category, rose 12.9%, down from 14.1%. Spending on physician services was the slowest growing category, rising just 6.1% in the first half of 2003. Despite the slowdown, total healthcare spending grew nearly three times faster than the overall economy. "Health spending is trending down, but it's still rising at a high rate, and while the premium trend should decline, average premium increases are still likely to be in the double digits in 2004," said Bradley Strunk, a research analyst and co-author of the study. -- by Laura B. Benko
Copays, deductibles slow spending growth
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