Healthcare price growth at slowest pace ever

Healthcare pricing grew at its slowest rate in more than half a century during the month of October, according to AHA News Now.

The overall healthcare price growth was 0.9 percent during October, according to data from the Altarum Institute's Center for Sustainable Health Spending. Hospital prices rose by 1.2 percent, the smallest increase in nearly 15 years. Physician services, prescription drugs and nursing home care prices all grew at significantly less than 1 percent overall. Prices for home healthcare services shrunk by 0.6 percent.

The overall increase in prices for healthcare services is the lowest charted since the organization began keeping tabs in 1990, and the lowest going back to 1960, based on historical data kept by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, according to Altarum. 

There have been a variety of reasons cited for the slow price growth. Economists have suggested that the Great Recession is to blame, although other policy experts suggest that payment changes linked to the Affordable Care Act should also receive credit.

However, Altarum officials say that the trend of near-flat price growth may not last forever.

"October is the sixth consecutive month where health care prices have grown more slowly than prices economy-wide," said Charles Roehrig, director of the Altarum center, in an announcement. "Medicare hospital payment policies are playing a key role here, along with popular brand name prescription drugs coming off patent. Low price growth is helping to restrain the growth in health spending, but I expect some acceleration in the near future as the effects of the previous recession have likely played out and expanded coverage under the Affordable Care Act kicks in."

Meanwhile, Altarum said that overall healthcare spending grew 4.1 percent in October compared to October 2012. Hospital spending grew at a 4 percent annual clip, compared to just under 5 percent in October of last year.

To learn more:
- read the AHA News Now article
- check out the price report (.pdf)
- here's the spending report (.pdf)
- read the Altarum announcement