Level growth in private-sector healthcare spending -- 7.5% in the first half of 2004 and 7.6% in both halves of 2003 -- may signal that the overall growth rate for healthcare has bottomed out and will start to climb again in the near future, according to the Center for Studying Health System Change and the Employee Benefit Research Institute. Private-sector spending represents more than half of all U.S. healthcare spending. Growth in per-capita, private-sector healthcare spending hit a high of 10% in 2001 but slowed in each of the next two years before leveling out. Even if the slowdown resumes, growth in the cost of employer-sponsored insurance seems likely to continue to exceed growth in workers' incomes, the organizations said.
Growth in spending on hospital services fell slightly in the first half of 2004 to 8.6% from 8.7% and 9.1% in the second and first half of 2003, respectively. The 7.7% rise in hospital prices was down from 8% increases in both halves of 2003. Spending on physician services grew 5.7%, the same as in the first half of 2003 but up from the second-half growth rate of 5.5%. Growth in prescription-drug spending was 8.8%, compared with 9.6% and 8.5% for the second and first half of 2003, respectively. Read the issue brief. -- by Tony Fong