CMS reports slowed health spending growth

National Health Spending Growth Slows in 2016 in Wake of Coverage Expansions, Decline in Drug Spending

The rate of healthcare spending in the United States slowed down previous year to levels previously seen between 2008-2015, driven by much slower growth in spending for retail prescription drugs, as well as hospital care and physician and clinical services. Despite the slower growth in 2016, healthcare spending still increased faster than the GDP growth rate.

Health spending increased 4.3 percent to $3.3 trillion compared to a 5.8 percent growth rate in 2015, according to a report by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which administers the government's health programs. Spending growth per Medicare enrollee increased at a slower rate in 2016 (0.8%) than in 2015 (2.1%).

That higher growth in those years was due in part to the addition of 19 million Americans to the ranks of people insured by either private insurance or Medicaid as a result of the Affordable Care Act. And they told reporters they could not recall another time before past year that spending growth had slowed for all three major payers - private health insurance, Medicare and Medicaid - and for goods and services, too.

And, healthcare spending growth easily outpaced the 2.9% rate of growth for the Gross Domestic Product in 2016. All 3 major payers-private health insurance, Medicaid, and Medicare-also saw lower rates of spending growth.

Among goods and services, retail prescription drugs saw the lowest growth rate, with physician and clinical services, which make up 20% of overall health spend, up 5.4% and hospital spending up 4.7%, making it 32% of all healthcare spending.

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Still, health care spending grew slightly faster than the overall economy in 2016, increasing health care's share of the economy from 17.7 percent in 2015 to 17.9 percent a year ago.

During 2015, USA health care spending was 17.7% of gross domestic product.

As the spending rate for USA health services slowed down across most forms of healthcare industries, there was one section that increased: out-of-pocket health charges. A year before, spending on such drugs grew by 8.9 percent, and in 2014 by 12.4 percent. Medicare spending grew 3.6% to $671.2 billion in 2016, compared with 4.8% in 2015, while reporting stable enrollment growth.

"Over the last decade, the United States has experienced unique events that have affected the health care sector, including the most severe economic recession since the Great Depression, major changes to the health care system because of the ACA and historic lows in medical price inflation", said Micah Hartman, a statistician in the Office of the Actuary at CMS and lead author of a Health Affairs article on the results. The slowing was driven by fewer new drugs being introduced and less spending on pricey treatments for hepatitis C. Medicaid spend grew 3.9%, compared with 9.5% in 2015 and 11.5% in 2014. On a per capita basis, national health spending grew at 3.5%, reaching $10,348 a year ago.

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