Healthcare spending growth highest in a decade

Healthcare spending grew at a 5.6 percent annual rate in the fourth quarter of 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis report.

The growth, a 10-year high, is driven in large part by $8 billion more in hospital revenue, which was more than the prior four quarters combined, according to USA Today. As a result, the U.S. Commerce Department revised overall fourth-quarter economic growth upwards to 2.6 percent.

The healthcare spending makeup also changed since past decades, according to an analysis by the Wall Street Journal. Nursing care accounted for only 5 percent of health spending in 1960, but represented 13 percent in 2012. Hospital spending, however, is down, accounting for about 30 percent of spending in 2012 compared to 1980, when it peaked at 40 percent. Spending on physician services also declined, accounting for about 23 percent of spending in 2012 compared to 25 percent in 1990, according to a breakdown of the analysis by McGuireWoods LLP.

Spending on medical devices declined sharply--it accounted for 3.5 percent of U.S. health spending in 2012, compared to 8.5 percent in 1960. Emergency department spending rose since 2000, when the average per-visit expense for all patients was $546 (in 2010 dollars); in 2010, the average was $969, according to the breakdown.

Upward economic momentum and falling unemployment may also boost the healthcare sector. "The improved economy could result in individuals having the resources to spend on healthcare services," American Hospital Association spokeswoman Jennifer Schleman told USA Today.

In 2013, healthcare costs grew at a slower rate than the economy overall for the second consecutive year, according to a January report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) Offices of the Actuary, which CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner described as "good news," FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the Bureau of Economic Analysis report
- check out the announcement
- read the USA Today article
- read the WSJ analysis
- read the McGuireWoods LLP breakdown