ANN ARBOR — Health care prices rose just 1.8 percent in February 2012, the lowest rate of inflation since April 1998. Price growth for nearly all health categories moderated, especially hospital care and physician services.
The information comes from the April “Health Sector Economic Indicators” briefs released Thursday by Altarum Institute’s Center for Sustainable Health Spending. The complete set of briefs — covering health care spending, utilization, prices and employment — can be viewed at www.altarum.org/healthindicators.
Altarum’s data also reveal that health spending growth continues a downward trend begun in February 2011, with 3.9 percent growth in February 2012 compared to February 2011, hovering around the record full-year low of 3.8 percent in 2009.
With 26,000 new health care jobs created in March, health care employment hit another all-time high of 10.8 percent of total employment. This was slower than the rapid growth seen in February but still above the two-year average of 24,000 per month.
“It is quite interesting to see this very low health care price growth occurring at a time when health sector employment is increasing so rapidly,” said Charles Roehrig, director of the Center for Sustainable Health Spending. “Job growth is still sorely needed by the economy, but health care providers must keep an eye on labor costs when their prices are growing so slowly.”
Health spending growth rates have been falling over the last 12 months and growth in per capita health care utilization has been steady at an average of 0.8 percent in the last six months. The health spending share of GDP was 18 percent in January 2012, up from 16.4 percent at the start of the recession (December 2007), but down from the all-time high of 18.2 percent in June 2011.
More at www.altarum.org.