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U.S. health care expenditures accelerated in 2014 and ended a multiyear trend of sharply smaller cost increases, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said Wednesday.
Total U.S. health care spending hit $3.031 trillion in 2014, the latest year for which government data is available, or $9,523 per person. The 5.3% increase compares with just a 2.9% rise in 2013 and an average annual increase of 3.7% from 2009 through 2013, CMS said in a report that was published in the journal Health Affairs.
“Two main factors were responsible for spending growth in 2014 — coverage expansion associated with the Affordable Care Act and faster growth in prescription drug spending,” Anne B. Martin, an CMS economist and a co-author of the report, said in a statement.
For example, an average of 5.4 million people a month — most of them previously uninsured — received coverage, often with federal premium subsidies, in public exchanges that opened last year.
On the prescription drug side, costs leaped 12.2% in 2014 to $297.7 billion compared with just a 2.4% increase in 2013.
That 12.2% increase — the biggest in well over a decade — was fueled by increased spending on new specialty medicines, especially those used to treat hepatitis C. New hepatitis C treatment contributed $11.3 billion in new spending, according to the report.
Spending on private health insurance coverage climbed 4.4% to $991 billion. The 2014 increase compares with a 1.6% increase in 2013 and a 3.5% rise in 2012.
Researchers attribute that jump in spending to increases in the number of people covered under private plans, as well as higher costs for hospital services.
As a percent of the nation's gross domestic product, health care spending hit a record 17.5% in 2014, up from 17.3% in 2013 and 16.3% as recently as 2008.
Workers with high deductibles are skimping on necessary care, some studies warn, but experts say there are ways employers can sidestep the concern before it weighs on future health costs.