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2016-12-02 21:52:19
U.S. Health Spending in 2015 Averaged Nearly $10,000 Per Person

WASHINGTON — Total spending on health care in the United States increased last year at the fastest rate since the 2008 recession, reaching $3.2 trillion, or an average of nearly $10,000 a person, the Department of Health and Human Services reported on Friday.

The growth coincided with continuing increases in the number of Americans with insurance coverage, through private health plans or Medicaid.

Federal spending on health care has increased by 21 percent over the past two years, as millions of Americans gained coverage through the Affordable Care Act, the department said in its annual report on health spending.

The increase in federal spending was driven mainly by the expansion of Medicaid eligibility and enrollment, according to the report, published online in the journal Health Affairs.

Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government has been paying the full cost of Medicaid coverage for newly eligible beneficiaries. Thirty-one states have chosen to expand eligibility.

Over all, the government said, health spending accounted for 17.8 percent of the nation’s economy in 2015, up from 17.4 percent in 2014.

Total health spending rose 5.8 percent last year, and spending per person increased 5 percent. The Obama administration said this growth was “below the rates of most years prior to passage of the Affordable Care Act.”

Anne B. Martin, an economist who was the principal author of the report, said the federal government became the largest source of health spending last year, accounting for 29 percent of the total — more than households, private businesses or state and local governments. That stems not only from rising coverage through the health law but also an aging population, which is expanding Medicare.

The health law was always expected to fuel an increase in health spending, but the law has cost less than originally projected by the Congressional Budget Office, in part because the number of people signing up for subsidized coverage through online insurance exchanges was lower than expected.

Growth in total national health spending was exceptionally low for five years, from 2009 through 2013, in part because of lingering effects of the recession, officials said. The White House also asserted that the health law had slowed health spending, by cutting the growth of Medicare payments to many health care providers and by encouraging them to become more efficient.

“Over the last 55 years, the largest increases in health spending’s share of the economy have typically occurred around periods of economic recession,” Ms. Martin said. “The 2014 and 2015 increases occurred more than five years after the last recession ended. But they coincided with 9.7 million individuals gaining private health insurance coverage and 10.3 million more people enrolling in Medicaid.”

Rapid increases in retail spending on prescription drugs also contributed to the growth of national health spending, officials said.

The report noted “strong growth in new specialty medications such as those used to treat hepatitis C, cancer, autoimmune diseases and multiple sclerosis, as well as in more traditional brand-name medications such as those used to treat diabetes.”

In 2015, the report said, prices for existing brand-name drugs increased at a double-digit rate for the fourth consecutive year. An increase in the number of new drugs approved for use was also a factor.

“In 2015,” the government said, “45 new drugs were approved, more than in any one year over the past decade.”

Retail sending on prescription drugs grew 9 percent last year — more than any other category of health care goods and services — and reached $324.6 billion, representing 10 percent of all health spending, the government said.

Those figures understate drug spending, officials said, because they generally do not include spending on drugs administered in doctor’s offices, hospitals and nursing homes.

In the past two years, the report said, 20 million people either gained private health insurance coverage or enrolled in Medicaid, primarily as a result of the Affordable Care Act. The share of the population with health coverage increased to 90.9 percent in 2015, from 86 percent in 2013, before the law’s major coverage provisions took effect.