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U.S. Healthcare Costs Accelerate Slightly

John Commins, for HealthLeaders Media, March 18, 2011

The average per capita cost of healthcare services covered by commercial health plans and Medicare programs rose 6.29% over the last 12 months ending in January, the first time the rate has accelerated since May 2010, according to Standard & Poor's Healthcare Economic Indices.

A further S&P breakdown shows that Medicare's growth in per capita cost grew at 3.4% in the 12-month period ending in January, which was less than half the rate of cost growth for commercial plans, which saw an increase of 8.03% for the 12-month period. 

Healthcare cost increases continue well above the rate of inflation in the larger economy, which grew 2.1% for the 12-month period ending in February as measured by the Consumer Price Index.  Most of that growth was fueled by rising food and energy costs, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported.

David Blitzer, managing director and chairman of the Index Committee at S&P noted that January marked the first acceleration of the rate of growth in per capita healthcare services since May 2010. "The first month of the New Year shows a departure from this trend, but it's too soon to predict if this is an anomaly or a sign of what 2011 has in store for us," Blitzer said.

Blitzer said the rate of growth in expenditures for commercial health plans continues to outpace that of Medicare – as it has for most of the six year history of the measurement – and the gap has widened by three percentage points in the past year.

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