S&P: Healthcare expenditures for commercial plans up 3.2% in the year to August 2013

Data released today for the S&P Healthcare Claims Indices showed that total medical costs rose 3.2% in the 12 months ended August 2013 compared to the 4.8% rise for the 12 months ended August 2012. Medical costs—inpatient and outpatient hospitalization plus professional services—rose 3.7% and prescription drugs rose 0.9% over the same period. All rose less than a year earlier.

Among the key components of medical costs, inpatient fee-for-service costs rose 4.2% compared to 4.4% in the earlier period while outpatient fee-for-service costs rose 5.7% compared to 7.9% in the earlier period. Prescription drugs expenditures were up 0.9% versus 2.9% in the 12 months ended August 2012. These figures, which represent the most current data available, are based on expenditures incurred in the 12 months ended August 2013. Because of standard industry lags in invoicing claims and resolving disputed charges, it is not possible for the indices to be calculated without a lag.

“The S&P Healthcare Claim Indices show healthcare expenditures rose less in the most recent period. This confirms other reports that the supposedly inexorable rise in healthcare costs is moderating,” says David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P Dow Jones Indices. “While the slower cost increases are most welcome, there is debate over the cause. For some categories there is sufficient detail to examine price and usage separately. For instance, in inpatient fee-for-service, one area showing relatively stable cost increases, the indices show that declining usage is contributing to the slowdown while unit costs rise at about 6% annually.

“One often cited source of moderation is the growth of generic pharmaceuticals, which compete with their branded counterparts on price. Among branded prescription drugs, prices continue to climb at more than 15% annually. Apparently the purveyors of branded pharmaceuticals chose to respond to price competition by increasing prices to offset declining usage. Compared to the branded, where usage is dropping by 15% annually, generics see consistent increases.

“It is too soon to credit the slower cost increases to Obamacare, going forward the indices will show whether the slowing of cost growth continues.”

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