Hospital prices barely budge in August

Hospital prices grew at a seasonally adjusted 0.2 percent from August to September, the lowest increase since 1998, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Altogether, hospital prices grew 3.3 percent between September 2014 and September of this year, although that data has not been adjusted due to seasonal fluctuations. Seasonally adjusted, prices did not change from July 2014 to July 2015.

Inpatient services prices grew an unadjusted 3.2 percent, and 2.9 percent for outpatient services. The cost of physician services rose by an unadjusted 2 percent.

Meanwhile, spending has been on a plateau. It rose a seasonally adjusted 5.7 percent from August 2014 to August of this year, according to data from the Altarum Institute's Center for Sustainable Health Spending. Although that is higher than the 4 percent average rate between 2009 and 2013, it is down significantly from the 6.8 percent annualized rate that was reported in February. In March of last year, the spending rate was above 7 percent.

Hospitals comprised 32 percent of all spending in the healthcare sector in August, according to Altarum, and its annualized growth rate paced the rest of the sector, at 6 percent. That compares to 5.6 percent in August 2014.

Prescription drug spending had the highest rate among the entire sector, at 9.2 percent. Yet that is significantly slower than the 12.7 percent annualized rate from August 2014.

Although prices and spending have slowed significantly from pre-recession highs, there are some experts who believe it will eventually return to double-digit percentage increases. 

"We have previously noted the spending growth acceleration and large health-sector employment gains associated with expansion of health insurance coverage, stronger economic growth, and special factors such as new hepatitis C drugs," said the center's deputy director Ani Turner in a statement. "We are seeing some evidence that these impacts are declining as 2015 progresses, but whether health spending growth continues to moderate or the historic slowdown is over will depend on how these potentially temporary drivers continue to play out, and the degree to which the Affordable Care Act and private-sector forces continue to exert cost containment pressure to drive lasting structural change."

To learn more:
- read the BLS data 
- check out the Altarum statement 
- here's the Altarum pricing data (.pdf)