According to a report released last week by the non-partisan research organization Health Care Cost Institute, healthcare costs for Americans under the age of 18 have risen 18.6% since 2007, significantly more than costs for the rest of the population.
Healthcare Costs Blazing Past Adults, Much in the Form of ‘Regular’ Checkups
The data in the report is based on one of the largest collections of private health insurance claims data ever assembled, including over three billion claims from Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare – three of the country’s largest insurers. While the fees for adult outpatient visits increased a hefty 10%, the most dramatic increase in price in any healthcare sector was for childrens’ outpatient visits, the regular checkups that are most likely to ensure our children remain healthy and thus avoid the need for more expensive care later. The cost of these visits has increased by 34.4% in the past four years. This is nearly six times the rate of inflation, which stands at 5.2%.
This is particularly disturbing considered alongside the fact that during the same four year time period, the percentage of commercially-insured children dropped 5.7% from nearly 44 million in 2007 to 41.4 million in 2010. In 2011, 9.8% of children in the U.S. were completely uninsured. In the subsequent age bracket, 18-24 year olds, the percentage of those left to cover healthcare costs completely out of pocket climbed to 27.2%.
Spending on infants and toddlers, aged 0-3, whose per capita healthcare costs totaled $3,896 in 2010 accounted for nearly a third of spending, despite comprising only 17% of the child population. Those subject to the steepest increase, however, were those aged 14-18, among whom hospital based mental health and substance abuse services increased 24% and prescriptions for drugs affecting the central nervous system- anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medications- rose 10%.
On average, American teenagers took at least one prescription drug on a regular basis. While overall prescription drug use declined, the use of both cardiovascular drugs and hormones increased by more than 20%. It would seem unlikely that the conditions being addressed with these medications and services are likely to resolve by the time this population joins the 27.2% of 18-24 year olds without access to affordable care.
Interestingly, physician income is on the decline, and the general practitioners who conduct outpatient visits continue to be the lowest paid of all. However, health insurance companies are continuing to break new records for profit growth.
Those who can pay, pay, and the growing number of those who can’t are left on their own. Is this a system that can be reformed? Only time will tell.