Growth in health care spending, hiring and prices slows


National health care spending in March grew 3.8 percent compared to March 2012, one-tenth of a percent below the February growth rate — putting it below the record low levels that were seen from 2009 to 2011.

Meanwhile, health care hiring may be slowing, with an average gain of 19,000 jobs per month for 2013, compared with 27,000 per month during 2012.

The data is in the May Health Sector Economic Indicators briefs released by Altarum Institute’s Center for Sustainable Health Spending in Ann Arbor.

Health care prices in March were 1.6 percent higher than in March 2012, one-tenth of a percent below the February rise, and second lowest growth rate since December 1997’s 1.3-percent figure. The 12 month moving average at 1.9 percent is the lowest rate since a 1.8-percent reading recorded in October 1998.

“Our research suggests that the recession continues to push down on health spending, cutting growth by a percentage point or more. And while the data are noisy, health providers may finally be cutting back employment in light of reimbursement pressures,” said Charles Roehrig, director of the center.

Kaiser Health News also reported that per-capita spending on prescription drugs fell for the first time in 2012. That is according to the IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics, a company in Danbury, Conn., which tracks pharmaceutical sales and other health data.

The IMS report states that in real dollars, total spending on prescriptions fell by 3.5 percent per person in 2012, while use of health care services, including visits to doctors, declined for the second consecutive year.

The major cause of the slowdown in prescription spending has been an unusual cluster of popular medicines losing patent protection and facing generic competition, according to Michael Kleinrock of IMS.

He said the reduced spending reflects people who “are staying away from health care and not using preventive services as much. Many of these choices are being based on finances.”

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