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Health-care spending increased at faster pace in '15 as prices rose

A patient gets dental care during the Seattle/King County Clinic at the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington on October 28, 2016.
Jason Redmond | AFP | Getty Images
A patient gets dental care during the Seattle/King County Clinic at the Key Arena in Seattle, Washington on October 28, 2016.

Spending on health care for people who have private insurance accelerated last year, ending a two-year period of more modest spending growth, a new study finds.

In 2015, overall spending for people with private health insurance increased by 4.6 percent, according to the Health Care Cost Institute report. Most of that increase, again, was due to higher prices for prescription drugs and medical services, as opposed to increased use of either.

In contrast, overall health-care spending grew by just 2.6 percent in 2014. In 2013, health spending rose 3 percent, HCCI said.

"Year after year, we see one constant: Rising prices that are accelerating spending growth," said HCCI Executive Director David Newman.

In dollar terms, the average spending per capita for the privately insured was $5,141 in 2015, according to HCCI's report. Of that, an average of $813 was spent out of pocket directly by insured people, in the forms of deductibles, co-payments and coinsurance. The rest was covered by their health insurance plans.

HCCI noted that the out-of-pocket responsibility of the privately insured grew by just 3 percent, a slower rate than the overall growth in health spending.

Spending on prescription drugs grew faster than that of any other health-care service in 2015, the report found.

Brand-name medications saw the biggest spending jump, up 11.4 percent, with an average of $649 spent per capita on such drugs last year. Much of that increase came from hormones and specialty anti-infective drugs, including ones used to treat Hepatitis C and HIV, according to the report.

In contrast, spending on generic drugs grew by just 3.3 percent in 2015, to an average per-capita amount of $313.

Other sectors flagged by HCCI in its report were prices for visits to emergency rooms, which rose by 10.5 percent in 2015, to an average price of $1,863. On the other hand, the number of ER visits actually declined for privately insured patients, according to the study.

Even higher increases were seen in the prices of administered drugs, such as chemotherapy, which are given to patients directly by health-care providers. Prices for such medications jumped by 12.5 percent, up to an average of $535 last year.

HCCI also noted that the average price an acute hospital admission has grown by an average of $1,000 each year from 2012 to 2015, ending with an average price of $19,967 last year.