Spending on children's health is rising faster than spending on adults due the increase in prices for all categories of goods and services, says a new report from the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI).
The report, which looked at commercially-insured kids between 2007 and 2010, found that the spending increase happened despite a drop in both the number of commercially-insured kids and use of costly medical services. Among the report's key findings:
– Per capita spending on children's health care rose 18.6 percent from 2007 to 2010, to $2,123. ("Per capita" essentially means "per person.")
– Health care spending grew most rapidly for teens over the four-year period.
– Infants – kids between zero and three years old – made up just 17 percent of the population of kids with coverage, but accounted for almost 33 percent of total spending on children in 2010.
– Kids' use of mental health and substance abuse services increased over the four years: Hospital-based mental health services rose 24 percent and the use of pertinent drugs increased 10 percent.
– Prices for children's outpatient visits – visits for procedures for which an overnight stay is unnecessary – rose the fastest of any services category, increasing at almost six times the rate of general inflation.
The findings are worrisome, says Martin Gaynor, HCCI's governing board chairman. "Children tend to use less expensive health care, so a bump in children's care spending is troubling because it could indicate that kids are getting sicker or receiving unnecessary tests or excess procedures," he said in a statement.
Gaynor added that the mental health and substance abuse stats are "particularly worrying," and that researchers need to see if that heavier use of services is "yielding valuable health outcomes."
The bulk of children's health care money was spent on professional procedures like primary care office visits, preventive care and immunizations, at a rate of about $855 per child. The average kid experienced about 10 visits each in 2010, up about seven percent from 2007. Also in 2010, the average out-of-pocket cost per child was $182, up approximately seven percent from the previous year.
The report also highlighted the fact that, regionally, the Northeast's spending far outgrew the West's – the difference was $311 in 2010. That same year, consumers were responsible for about 17.5 percent of all health care costs, which is slightly more than the rest of the population (who are hovering around 16 percent). Finally, cardiovascular drug-use among children increased by nearly 25 percent, as did hormones (about 21 percent).
David Newman, executive director of the HCCI, says the next step is to identify the underlying cause for these trends.
You can the "Children's Health Care Spending Report: 2007-2010" in full here.