Sept. 25--The pace of health care inflation could be picking up again, according to a report released Tuesday, Sept. 25.
Health care spending grew by 4.6 percent per capita in 2011, up from a 3.8 percent growth rate the previous year, according to a report from the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit group based in Washington, D.C.
"This suggests that 2011 is a potential transition year, and that the growth in health care spending in 2012 needs to be closely watched," researchers wrote in the report, which is an independent analysis of health insurance claims data from Minnetonka-based UnitedHealth Group and three other larger insurers.
Depressed use of health care services with the slow economy has been a recurring theme in the financial results of health care companies during the past few years. The new report, however, suggests the story line could be changing.
The report found that most of the growth in spending came from higher prices for services provided by doctors, clinics and hospitals, rather than an overall increase in the intensity or amount of health care services being used.
"Something is going on that is causing providers to raise prices," said Carolyn Herrera, director of research at the Health Care Cost Institute, in an interview.
The institute was created in 2011 to promote independent research on cost drivers in health care. UnitedHealth, Aetna, Humana and Kaiser Permanente -- all large national insurers -- contribute claims data to the
institute for analysis, but the companies have no control over the research work, said David Newman, the institute's director.
Claims data is "de-identified," Newman said, so researchers don't have information that can be linked to any individuals. It includes claims from people covered through employer-sponsored insurance plans for people under the age of 65.
While health insurance companies have no say over the focus or conclusion of the institute's research, the finding about prices seems to fit with a concern being voiced lately by more health insurers.
On Monday, the trade group for health insurance companies issued a statement in response to recent newspaper stories about consolidation among health care providers leading to price increases. Robert Zirkelbach, spokesman for America's Health Insurance Plans, said in the statement: "As hospitals have been buying up physician practices, too often it's simply leading to higher prices for those services."
Christopher Snowbeck can be reached at 651-228-5479. Follow him at twitter.com/chrissnowbeck.
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