Spending on healthcare services grew less rapidly in 2003 than in previous years, the second slowdown in two years, and slower growth in hospital spending led the way, even as hospital prices recorded their largest one-year spike in a decade. Spending per privately insured American rose 7.4% in 2003, compared with increases of 9.5% in 2002 and 10% in 2001, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change. Overall economic growth for the nation was 3.8% in 2003.
Hospital spending was up 9%, compared with a 10.8% increase in 2002, reflecting a sharp deceleration in the growth of hospital utilization, the center said in a report published online by the journal Health Affairs. Still, hospital inpatient and outpatient services accounted for more than half of the total increase in healthcare spending for the third straight year. Hospital prices increased 8% in 2003 -- the sixth straight year of accelerating price increases -- reflecting greater negotiating power on the part of hospitals and their need to raise wages amid a labor shortage, the center said. Read an abstract of the study. -- by Tony Fong