Money is being pumped into the healthcare system at a much more rapid rate than estimated, according to first-quarter U.S. Census Bureau data. The Census Bureau's Quarterly Services Survey, considered one of the more accurate depictions of the U.S. economy, showed healthcare spending rose 7.2% in the first quarter of this year, compared with the same period in 2014. Hospital spending alone grew 9.2% year over year.
Larry Levitt of the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation tweeted that the spike in hospital revenue wasn't solely because of volumes, since hospital days rose a modest 3.5%. Prices are rising and hospitals are treating more complex conditions. The new data go beyond the recent first-quarter estimates from the U.S. Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, which recently reported that healthcare spending increased 5.4% annually.
Ambulatory healthcare spending rose 5.9% in the first quarter. Spending in outpatient centers went up 9.4%, and diagnostic labs recorded spending 9.1% higher year over year.
While first-quarter healthcare spending jumped 7.2% annually, it actually decreased 0.4% from the fourth quarter of 2014. However, healthcare spending is generally higher in the fourth quarter. More people use elective healthcare services at the end of the year, when they have already reached their annual insurance deductibles. Census data do not include pharmaceutical spending in the healthcare sector.
The Bureau of Economic Analysis will release its final first-quarter numbers later this month.