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Washington Post: Working Americans are using less health care, but spending more

By: Carolyn Johnson

Americans who get health insurance through their jobs are not using more medical care than they were five years ago, but they are spending more due to soaring medical prices, according to a new report.

Health spending for the more than 150 million people who receive insurance through their employers was $5,407 per person in 2016. That is a 4.6 percent increase over 2015, even though people's use of almost every broad category of care dropped or stayed the same over a five-year period, according to a new analysis from the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit funded by the insurance industry.

The report, built on claims data from 39 million people who receive insurance through their employers, found especially sharp increases in the prices of emergency room visits, surgeries and drugs administered in doctors' offices.

The number of emergency room visits increased modestly between 2012 and 2016, by 2 percent. Meanwhile, the average price of those visits soared 31 percent, to $1,917. Admissions to the hospital for surgery dropped 16 percent over that period, but the average price increased to $41,702, or a 30 percent jump. The price of physician-administered drugs, such as infusions for chemotherapy, increased by 42 percent.

Utilization of brand name prescription drugs dropped, but overall spending increased due to price increases, according to the data — which does not take into account rebates and coupons. Health policy experts criticized the prescription drug data as misleading, since rebates can have a significant effect on a drug's real price. An analysis of national health spending data found that prescription drug spending increased by 1.3 percent in 2016, although that data was broader than just employer-provided insurance. 

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