Prices for those in employer plans went up in 2018—but growth is slowing: study 

Medical bill healthcare cost price patient spending
The Health Care Cost Institute released its annual look at costs for employer-sponsored insurance. (Getty/everydayplus)

Healthcare prices for people with employer-sponsored coverage are still going up, but that growth is slowing, a new study shows. 

In its latest cost and utilization report, the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI) found that costs per person in employer plans reached $5,892 in 2018. Out-of-pocket costs also increased, to $907 per person. 

The report is based on more than 2.5 billion claims from between 2014 and 2018 for 40 million people with employer coverage. HCCI found that costs grew by 4.3% in that window. 

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HCCI said in its report last year that spending in 2017 reached an all-time high of $5,641. What’s driving the continued spending growth? Largely price hikes—though utilization is increasing somewhat, too, the study found. 

RELATED: Analysis finds shoppable hospital services at center of transparency rule a small part of employer plan spending 

Price increases accounted for three-quarters of spending growth between 2014 and 2018, adding $458 per person in that window. Prices in 2018 alone increased by 2.6%, and the consistent growth over that period means prices in 2018 were 15% higher than in 2014. 

However, that increase is the lowest rate observed in the study period, the researchers said. 

Service utilization increased by 1.8% between 2017 and 2018, which was the fastest rate observed in the five years of the study. And because prices have increased steadily, the impact of an uptick in use was felt more acutely in 2018, the researchers said. 

Inpatient admissions remained largely stagnant, increasing by 0.2% in 2018, while outpatient services increased by 1.6% and use of professional services increased by 3.1%, which includes payments to docs and other members of the clinical team. Prescription drug utilization increased by 1.1% in 2018. 

RELATED: HCCI—Consumer-directed plans cut spending, service use among people with chronic conditions 

The study found the largest price increase for outpatient services, which rose on average 3.8%. This is lower than the year before, however, as outpatient care prices increased by 5.7% in 2017. 

People between the ages of 25 and 44 accounted for the largest amount of spending—about 29% of the data included in the study. There were notable gaps between spending for men and women in this age group, with men spending on average $3,549 per person and women spending $6,382. 

Spending amounts were highest for those aged 55 to 64, with women spending an average of $10,688 per person and men spending $10,891. 

HCCI’s data include claims from Aetna, Humana, UnitedHealthcare (UHC) and Kaiser Permanente. The group said this would be the last analysis including data from UHC, which is pulling out of the cooperative in 2022. However, Blue Health Intelligence will begin contributing data in the coming years. 

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