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Growth in U.S. Health Spending the Lowest On Record

U.S. healthcare spending grew at the lowest rate ever recorded last year, in defiance of predictions that it would surge this year with Obamacare, experts said Wednesday. But it’s still the highest per capita spending in the world, at $2.9 trillion for 2013, or $9,255 per person.

The growth rate was 3.6 percent, the actuaries at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services reported. It’s a continuation of a five-year trend and in line with the general slow economic recovery, they report in the journal Health Affairs. But health spending still accounts for more than 17 percent of the gross domestic product.

“The key question is whether health spending growth will accelerate once economic conditions improve significantly,” said Micah Hartman, a statistician in the Office of the Actuary at CMS, who led the team of analysts. “Historical evidence suggests it will.”

Spending grew just slightly in all areas of health care, but growth was slow for private health insurance, where premiums went up by just 2.8 percent; the Medicare federal health program, where spending grew by 3.4 percent; and hospital spending at 4.3 percent.

American consumers also spent only a little more, with out-of-pocket spending up just 3.2 percent.

The same team predicted last year that growth would pick up in 2014, to 6 percent, in large part because of more Medicaid spending under the 2010 Affordable Care Act and as millions signed up for health insurance on the new exchanges. That didn't happen.

Jason Furman, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, says there's growing evidence that policies are driving down costs. "With each passing year, it becomes increasingly difficult to explain why and howthe 2007-2009 recession could still be exerting significant downward pressure on health care spending growth and, thus, increasingly implausible that the recession is the main explanation for that slow growth," he wrote in a blog post.

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