Report: Slow growth in 2011 for U.S. medical spending

The growth rate of U.S. healthcare spending in 2011 remained low for a third consecutive year, at 3.9%, according to a report published in the January issue of Health Affairs. But Medicare spending, particularly fee-for-service physician services, was one of the faster-growing categories compared to 2010.

The Office of the Actuary at the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that 2011 levels of healthcare spending growth were identical to rates in 2009 and 2010 -- the slowest rates ever recorded in the history of the National Health Expenditure Accounts (Health Affairs, January 2013, Vol. 32:1, pp. 87-99).

But despite overall stability in the rate of health spending, there was faster growth among some payors and services, including Medicare spending, with a 6.2% growth rate (compared to 4.3% growth in 2010). The report's authors attributed this to faster growth in spending for physician services under fee-for-service Medicare and for Medicare Advantage, along with a one-time increase for skilled nursing facilities.

Other areas where healthcare spending growth increased in 2011 over 2010 were retail prescription drugs, physician and clinical services, private health insurance, and out-of-pocket spending, according to the report. Compared to 2010, growth slowed in hospital spending and Medicaid.

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