Altarum: Huge healthcare job growth but spending, price trends remain low

The healthcare economy continues to chug on, adding jobs at a high rate while pricing and spending trends remain low, according to recent data from the Altarum Institute's Center for Sustainable Health Spending. 

Healthcare spending was up 5.5 percent during the month of September, as compared to September 2014, according to the data. That is significantly lower than the 6.8 percent trend increase seen back in February, the highest rate in eight years.

The report also noted that hospital spending was up 5.9 percent year-after-year. Prescription drug spending saw the biggest year-over-year increase, at 8.4 percent. However, that is a far smaller increase when compared to the 12.7 percent clip it increased in September 2014 compared to September 2013.

Health spending still represents 18.3 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product, compared to 17.8 percent in September 2014. 

Meanwhile, healthcare price trends remain all but flat, Altarum reported. Pricing in September was up just 1 percent compared to September 2014. That ties the lowest increase since the 1990s. The moving one-year average of 1.2 percent is also at a historical low. Hospital pricing was up just 0.7 percent. Physician and clinical services actually dropped 1.1 percent and non-durable medical products dropped 2 percent. Pharmaceuticals posted the biggest increase at 4.2 percent.

The current trends seem to contradict a recently released report by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which predicted that spending would soon increase by more than 5 percent a year. A prior study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation suggested that spending would eventually increase at a 9 percent per year clip.

As for jobs, Altarum reports that 44,900 new positions were added to the healthcare sector in October. That includes 17,800 jobs at hospitals. Only ambulatory care services added more jobs, 26,900. Over the past year, healthcare employment has grown by 495,000 jobs, a growth rate of 3.3 percent. By contrast, non-healthcare jobs in the U.S. economy grew by only 1.9 percent.

"The high rate of growth in health jobs shows no signs of abating. However, we believe that this high growth is linked to expanded coverage, which has begun to level off, and this suggests a commensurate slowdown in health employment in the near future," said Altarum Center Director Charles Roehrig in a statement.

To learn more:
- read the Altarum statement 
- check out the jobs report (.pdf)
- here's the spending report (.pdf)
- read the price report (.pdf)