A preliminary federal estimate of economic activity suggests healthcare spending maintained a consistently high growth rate in the opening three months of 2015 even though the broader U.S. economy largely dragged its feet.
When adjusted for inflation, healthcare spending ticked up 5.5% compared with the same quarter last year as well as the fourth quarter, according to data released Wednesday by the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis. Health services spending increased 6.2% annually in current-day dollars, totaling $2.07 trillion.
Meanwhile, the overall U.S. economy grew 3% annually when adjusted for inflation and 3.9% at current market prices. Real gross domestic product in the first quarter increased only 0.2% compared with the fourth quarter.
The federal agency's analysis is the first of three for every quarter. The first draft is generally considered to be the least accurate because it relies on incomplete data.
But the report is consistent with what health economists have seen over the past several months: higher amounts of spending on health services and procedures, particularly within the hospital setting, while prices remain low.
The healthcare measurement by the Bureau of Economic Analysis does not calculate goods, such as prescription drugs, so healthcare spending may be even higher. Pharmaceutical expenses rose more than 10% between February 2014 and February 2015, according to the Altarum Institute Center for Sustainable Health Spending. Pricey specialty drugs and more expensive generics have been fueling the increased spending.
The government's second estimate of first-quarter economic growth will be released May 29.