Spending increases on healthcare by privately insured Americans leveled off in 2004 at 8.2%, a rate nearly identical to the 8.4% increase in 2003, according to a study published in the journal Health Affairs. Outpatient services, the fastest-growing segment of healthcare spending among privately insured Americans, rose at 11.3% in 2004, nearly unchanged from the 11.1% increase in 2003. Growth in inpatient spending also held steady at 6.2% in 2004, versus 6.1% in 2003.
Overall hospital spending -- for both inpatient and outpatient services -- reflected a slight dip in actual prices and a modest increase in utilization. The rate of prescription drug spending fell for the fifth consecutive year, to 7.2% from a high of 18.1% in 1999. The authors noted that employer surveys suggest consumer premiums grew at a slower rate in 2005, but continued "to outpace growth in the economy and workers' incomes by a wide margin." See the complete study. -- by Melanie Evans