Children's healthcare spending grows even amid reduced use

A pediatrician and his patient

Rising prices drove spending growth for pediatric healthcare in 2014 even as actual use of services diminished, according to a new report from the Health Care Cost Institute.

Over the year, pediatric doctor and emergency room visits and hospital admissions declined, as did prescription drug use, but between 2010 and 2014, per capita healthcare spending grew an annual average of 5.1 percent for children covered by employer-sponsored insurance. Out-of-pocket spending on pediatric care rose over the same period, increasing an average of 5.5 percent per year to reach $472 in 2014, due largely to increased spending on ER visits of about $21 per capita.

"The decline in children's use of healthcare services is a relatively new trend that we need to continue monitoring," HCCI Senior Researcher Amanda Frost said in a statement. "While we know that prices have fueled much of the spending growth in 2014, future research should examine whether these higher expenditures are leading to better healthcare outcomes for children."

Prices rose specifically for emergency services as well, from $165 per capita in 2010 to $214 in 2014, while the average cost of an ER visit increased by about $300 in the same period. During the same four-year period, the rate of ER visits fell from 181 to 177 visits per 1,000 children.

Doctor visits were the most common pediatric service, but they too fell over the study period, according to the report, to 3,228 visits per 1,000 children. A study published last December found primary care access significantly reduces pediatric care costs, FiercePracticeManagement previously reported. However, research published in January suggests possible trouble ahead for pediatric hospitals in the wake of the Affordable Care Act due to their disproportionate share of patients with acute medical conditions.

To learn more:
- read the report (.pdf)