Hospital prices spiked sharply in November even as gasoline costs plummeted and the nation's overall consumer price index posted its largest one-month drop since July 1949, federal figures show.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics' Consumer Price Index, released Dec. 15, shows a 1% increase in hospital prices in November, the largest one-month bump since a 1.1% rise in November 2003, and a slight increase over October's 0.8% jump. All figures are seasonally adjusted.
Meanwhile, energy prices dropped a record 8% in November--largely because of a 15.2% drop in petroleum-based energy prices-and triggered a 0.6% drop in the CPI for all goods and services. The so-called core CPI, which excludes unstable food and energy prices, rose at a relatively steady rate, 0.2%, in November.
Volatile energy prices, which jumped between July and September before falling in October, may have contributed to hospitals' price bump in November, said Paul Ginsburg, president of the Center for Studying Health System Change. Gyrating energy costs may not immediately be reflected in hospital or core prices, he said.
The November spike may also be only a one time shift in the labor agency's data collection rather than an actual shift in hospital prices, he said. Ultimately, the source of last month's jump in hospital prices is unclear and its significance for U.S. healthcare spending is uncertain, he said. Consumer prices are typically set by lengthy contracts with payers, leaving little opportunity for rising or falling prices, he said.
For the year ended in November, consumer prices rose 5.8% for hospitals. Physician prices reported by consumers climbed 0.2% last month and 3.1% for the 12 months ended in November, BLS data show.