Rate of health spending growth remained low in 2012, government actuaries show

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Health care spending in the United States grew at a rate of 3.7 percent in 2012 to $2.8 trillion, actuaries for the Obama administration said Monday, a rate similar to that of recent years amid a stretch of historically low spending growth.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said health spending has grown by rates between 3.6 percent and 3.8 percent annually since 2009, meaning “growth during all four years has occurred at the slowest rates ever recorded in the fifty-three-year history of the National Health Expenditure Accounts.”

Actuaries said health care spending grew more slowly than the gross domestic product in 2012, so the portion of the economy devoted to health care fell from 17.3 percent in 2011 to 17.2 percent in 2012. Their findings were posted Monday in an article for Health Affairs.

While proponents of the Affordable Care Act have credited the law with slowing the increase in health spending, much of the slowdown is due to last decade’s economic downturn, actuaries said.

“The low rates of national health spending growth and relative stability since 2009 primarily reflect the lagged impacts of the recent severe economic recession,” said Anne B. Martin, an economist in the Office of the Actuary at CMS. “Additionally, 2012 was impacted by the mostly one-time effects of a large number of blockbuster prescription drugs losing patent protection and a Medicare payment reduction to skilled nursing facilities.”

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