Producer, consumer price indexes tell different stories

The price of producing hospital inpatient care increased only incrementally from February 2013 to February 2014, while outpatient care prices experienced a more significant uptick.

Hospital inpatient prices increased 1.4 percent year-over-year, according to producer price data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). They grew 0.3 percent between January and February. By contrast, the product price for hospital outpatient care increased 3.5 percent between February 2013 and February 2014, by far the biggest price increase among all the healthcare services studied.

The BLS did not explain the differential in the cost of producing inpatient and outpatient services. However, the hospital sector has shifted more of its services to outpatient settings, ostensibly to save money. These additional services result in increased costs, including the construction of new facilities and the acquisition of outpatient facilities from physician groups and other sources.

In other segments, nursing home care prices increased 0.6 percent. Medical laboratories and diagnostic prices decreased 1 percent, while home healthcare decreased 0.3 percent.

However, the consumer price index--which measures what patients actually pay for care--went up by larger amounts. Patients paid 5.1 percent more for inpatient services and 4.4 percent for outpatient services between February 2013 and 2014, with an overall 4.7 percent increase in the price of hospital services.

Patients face larger deductibles and copays for medical services, likely driving up the prices they have to pay. And hospitals in recent years added "facility fees" to the bills of patients who obtain services on an outpatient basis.

Nursing home service prices increased 3 percent, while physician services increased 1.3 percent.

By contrast, the price consumers paid for health insurance increased 0.2 percent between February 2013 and February 2014. It is unknown whether the sales of subsidized health insurance on the state's health insurance exchanges played a role in this increase.

To learn more:
- read the BLS producer price data
- check out the BLS consumer price data

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