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President Barack Obama listens to remarks during an event at the White House in Washington April 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque) President Barack Obama listens to remarks during an event at the White House in Washington April 3, 2014. (REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)  

Report: Health care spending rises again in 2013

Americans used more health care services in 2013, reversing a three-year trend of reduced usage and leading to a boost in health care spending across the board, according to a report released Tuesday.

The IMS Institute for Healthcare Informatics found that total dollars spent on medications in 2013 in the U.S. added up to $329.2 billion, up 3.2 percent in nominal spending, a significant boost from 2012, which saw a 1 percent decline in medication spending.

But while Americans took advantage of more health care services in 2013, it wasn’t due to Obamacare. The return to a growth in spending last year was not due to the health care law, the report concluded, but “rather a reflection of cyclical patterns of patient expiries.”

Along with spending on medicine, the utilization of all types of health care services rose in 2013 — as did out-of-pocket costs for health coverage. That includes visits to physician offices, hospitalizations and prescriptions.

The White House has repeatedly attempted to claim slower growth in total health care spending as the work of its health care law. In January, when Obamacare administrator the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) found that total U.S. health care spending grew by a low 3.7 percent, the White House falsely attributed it to Obamacare even as CMS denied the law’s impact.

“For years, healthcare costs in America skyrocketed, with brutal consequences for our country,” according to Jeanne Lambrew, White House deputy assistant for health policy. “The Affordable Care Act, for the first time in decades, has helped to stop that trend.”

But the IMS report reaffirms that the drops in total health care spending were the result “self-rationing” by Americans who refused to spend their money on health care during harder economic times. The increased usage occurred as “patients returned to the healthcare system, mostly visiting physicians’ offices and/or receiving outpatient treatment” in higher numbers after opting not to use health care as much for several years.

Interestingly, for the fourth year in a row, hospitalizations sparked by emergency visits grew, primarily driven by daytime visits, when patients presumably could have chosen to visit a family or primary care doctor. At the same time, inpatient admissions via the ER declined dramatically.

Such trends may indicate that despite growing insurance coverage, patients are increasingly using emergency services to meet everyday health care needs. IMS suggested that efforts to discourage “inappropriate ER usage” may be in order.

The rise is “prompting questions if medicines were no longer ‘bending the cost curve’ and if a bubble was forming as a result of the Affordable Care Act,” according to the report.

Lower usage of health care services was the driver of lower health care spending over the last several years, as opposed to real decreases in the cost of health care services and medications. But with Americans using more services last year, total health care spending is climbing back up.

On top of increased health spending as patients return to the industry, increase insurance coverage due to the Obamacare individual mandate may cause even higher increases in 2014.

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