Healthcare prices see lowest year-over-year gain in 15 years

Healthcare prices in January rose only 1.5 percent from January 2012 prices, marking the lowest healthcare price growth since December 1997, according to a new report from the Altarum Institute.

Meanwhile, January 2013 health expenditures grew at an annual rate of 4.1 percent compared with January 2012, for the fifth consecutive year of moderate spending growth.

The decelerating growth rate still meant higher spending throughout the healthcare industry during the past year, with home healthcare growing the fastest at 8.4 percent. Nursing home care, however, saw a slight spending drop of 0.2 percent, according to the study.

Hospital spending totaled $925 billion this January, accounting for 32 percent of all health spending. And physician clinical services totaled $557 billion, representing 19 percent of all health expenditures.

The study attributed the continued slowdown to the U.S. economy operating at less than full employment, as well as quality and cost pressures on hospitals and providers.

"The last time we saw healthcare prices rising so slowly was back in the 'golden era' of managed care in the mid- to late-1990s," Charles Roehrig, director of Altarum's Center for Sustainable Health Spending, said Wednesday in a statement.

The study builds on recent data from Office of the Actuary at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, which showed U.S. healthcare spending grew at a rate 3.9 percent in 2011--the slowest prolonged growth rate in half a century.

As prices and spending continue to slow, hospitals can expect to see a modest bump in drug costs this year. A February study in the American Journal of Health-System Pharmacy found that hospitals will experience a 1.5 percent increase in drug costs in 2013, below the more than 2 percent hikes in recent years, FierceHealthFinancce previously reported.

For more:
- here's the Altarum announcement and report (.pdf)