Healthcare Use Down, Costs Up 10% — WaPo, Politico
Americans with employer-sponsored insurance had fewer hospital stays and visited outpatient clinics less frequently from 2009 to 2010, but prices for inpatient and outpatient care rose by about 10% or more, according to a Health Care Cost Institute analysis of more than 3 billion claims for medical care. The average price of generic drugs fell over the same period, but prices for brand-name drugs rose, the analysis found. Â The Washington Post opines that “Data Trove May Shed Light on Healthcare Uncertainties”:Â
How much do hospitals and doctors actually charge insurers for their services? How much and which of those services are privately-insured patients using? And, most significantly, what drives changes in health-care use, costs, and total spending?
They are among the most vexing questions in American health care. And a recently amassed trove of data from insurance companies could soon shed new light on them.
Compiled by the non-profit, non-partisan Health Care Cost Institute, the database will allow researchers to slice and dice more than 3 billion medical claims for more than 33 million individuals in search of answers.
The previously confidential information, scrubbed of identifying details, is being provided by three of the nationâ€™s largest insurance companies: Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare–whose combined customers account for about 20 percent of Americans under age 65 who are insured through an employer.
Until now, the Post explains, researchers have had to extrapolate from far smaller surveys of employers, or rely on government claims statistics from Medicare, which are almost exclusively limited to Americans over age 65.
It adds: Â “On Monday, the institute offered a first look at its findings, in a report that largely confirmed previously identified trends, but added intriguing details. For instance, analysts have been puzzling over why, after more than a decade of alarming growth, health-care spending is now rising more slowly. Institute researchers were able to put numbers to one of the most popular theories: People are using less health-care.”
Politico weighs in:
A new study could pose a challenge to the basic premise of President Barack Obamaâ€™s approach to controlling health costs â€” that spending will come down if doctors donâ€™t give patients as much unnecessary medical care.
The study from the Health Care Cost Institute found that costs rose 3.3 percent in 2010 even though people actually used fewer services in many categories. Spending grew not because there were a lot of unnecessary procedures and treatments but rather because the services themselves got more expensive.
. . .Â The HCCI got four of the nationâ€™s largest insurers â€” Aetna, Humana, Kaiser Permanente and UnitedHealthcare â€” to fork over massive amounts of records about whatâ€™s driving spending among people under age 65.
. . .But this study may have also detected a demographic trend that might be even harder for policymakers to handle. Â Health spending increased almost twice as fast for children under 18 as it did for people between 19 and 54.
The price for generic drugs dropped over the survey period. Â But the cost of brand name drugs rose. Â Â
Healthcare Costs are Rising. Use is Down.