Earnings indicate low hospital utilization

An earnings report from a major insurer suggests that hospital utilization is growing modestly, if at all, Kaiser Health News reported.

Minnesota-based insurance giant UnitedHealth Group is considered a major indicator for healthcare spending trends, according to KHN. In the first quarter outpatient utilization was up, while hospitalizations dropped slightly.

According to UnitedHealth CEO Stephen Helmsley, medical trends "remain moderate," The Wall Street Journal reported.

"Outpatient is the place where we see the most increase, and on the inpatient side we actually continue to see that very restrained," UnitedHealth Chief Financial Officer Dan Schumacher told KHN. "Our hospital bed days are actually flat to down in each of our businesses."

Industry observers indictaed that the down economy, large deductibles and other out-of-pocket costs for patients are helping to keep utilization trends down.

"Inpatient is the biggest piece of the healthcare cost pie," Thomas Carroll, a stock analyst for Stifel Nicolaus, told KHN. "The low utilization in inpatient is likely offsetting higher outpatient" trends and price increases by hospitals.

To learn more:
- read the KHN article
- read the Wall Street Journal article