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Recession, high costs made fewer seek care

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in Compensation and Benefits,Human Resources

Money worries and the steadily rising cost of health care led fewer Americans to seek medical treatment in 2010, according to a new, detailed analysis by the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI).

That may seem obvious, but the group’s report is drawing close attention for the data it used to reach its conclusions. It crunched real numbers culled from 3 billion medical claims filed by 33 million individuals insured by Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare.

Collectively, the three companies cover about 20% of Americans who receive health insurance through their employers.

Rising prices for care were the chief driver of health care costs for privately insured Americans in 2010, the institute found. Per capita spending for care in inpatient and outpatient facilities, professional procedures and prescriptions drugs rose 3.3% in 2010 for beneficiaries under age 65 with private, employer-sponsored group insurance coverage.

That’s down from 2008 and 2009, when spending rose 6% and 5.8%, respectively.

However, out-of-pocket per capita spending increased 7.1% in 2010 to $689. That may be what led to a significant drop in doctor visits. Overall use of health care services declined in 2010, dropping by more than 5% for medical inpatient admissions, emergency room visits, primary care provider office visits and radiology procedures.

HCCI analysts theorize that even well-insured people hesitate to use health care when they’re worried about losing their jobs or going into debt.

Future HCCI reports will be even richer, including data from Kaiser Permanente policy holders.

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