Growth in healthcare spending at a crawl

Jan. 7, 2013 at 7:18 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 7 (UPI) -- U.S. government data shows healthcare spending in 2011 grew 3.9 percent from 2010 to 2011, matching the lowest growth rate on record.

Annual growth has remained consistent since 2009, when physicians noted patients cutting costs in various ways, including delaying routine tests, pulling back on office visits and canceling or postponing elective procedures, The Wall Street Journal reported Monday.

Data shows spending slowed at hospitals in 2011, but spending rose on doctor visits and on prescriptions, suggesting patients may ready to increase healthcare spending soon.

In 2011, "things went back to normal," said Wichita, Kan., optometrist Chad Fleming.

Previously, patients had been putting off getting their eyes checked and asking with more frequency for prescriptions to be filled with generic drugs, he said.

In 2010, growth in spending on drugs slowed to a crawl, climbing 0.4 percent, because people were no longer going as frequently to the doctor, said Steve Miller, chief medical officer at Express Scripts Holding Co., a firm that manages drug benefits for 100 million people, the Journal reported.

Growth in healthcare spending was strongest in the area of specialty drugs, where there are no generic substitutes.

While spending on drugs overall rose 2.9 percent in 2011, spending on emerging drugs used to treat conditions like multiple sclerosis, hemophilia and cancer rose 20 percent, the data shows.

Enrollment in health insurance rose 0.5 percent in 2011 and total healthcare spending rose from $2.6 trillion to $2.7 trillion.

Only a few of the federal healthcare overall provisions have begun to take effect. Analysts are pointing to 2014 when big changes come through with millions more people having access to health insurance through the program known as Obamacare.

Some doctors attributed the recent uptick in healthcare spending to new jobs that include health benefits.

"Now that they finally have healthcare they're very willing to get it done, even anxious, before the next shoe drops," said Wilmington, Del., family physician Rebecca Jaffe, referring to routine tests patients had been avoiding for cost reasons.

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