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U.S. health care spending increases slowly for 3rd year in a row

WASHINGTON — Americans have kept health care spending in check for three years in a row, the government reported Monday.

The U.S. health care tab stood at $2.7 trillion in 2011, the latest year available, said nonpartisan Department of Health and Human Services number crunchers. That's 17.9 percent of the economy, averaging out to $8,680 for every man, woman and child, far more than any other economically advanced country spends.

Still, it was the third straight year of historically low increases in the United States. The 3.9 percent increase meant that health care costs grew in line with the overall economy in 2011 instead of surging ahead, as they normally have during a recovery.

The respite means that President Barack Obama and lawmakers in Congress have a window to ease in tighter cost controls this year, if they can manage to reach a broader agreement on taxes and spending. Health care spending is projected to spike up again in 2014, as Obama's law covering the uninsured takes full effect.

Medicare spending grew faster in 2011, but Medicaid spending slowed down. Spending on hospital care also slowed. Spending on prescription drugs and doctors' services accelerated, but spending for private health insurance grew modestly.

More people gained health insurance as a result of the health law's requirement that young adults can stay on a parent's plan until age 26. But employers increasingly steered workers and families into high-deductible health plans, which come with lower monthly premiums but require patients to pay a greater share of their bills out of their own pockets.

Although some insurers are currently seeking big premium increases for certain plans, it's not clear that's a widespread trend.

U.S. health care spending increases slowly for 3rd year in a row 01/07/13 [Last modified: Monday, January 7, 2013 7:40pm]
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