Oct. 9—Even as healthcare spending overall grew more slowly in recent years, out-of-pocket spending by people with employer-sponsored insurance increased, according to new research.

The study of the healthcare trends for the 156 million pre-Medicare Americans with employer-sponsored health insurance was published in the latest issue of Health Affairs.

Like a growing number of earlier studies, the new research found per-capita healthcare spending among the study population grew at historically low rates from 2007 to 2011. Total per-capita spending for employer-sponsored insurance grew 4.9 percent annually during the period.

However, out-of-pocket medical spending increased at an average annual rate of 8.0 percent ($403 versus $548), while out-of-pocket prescription drug spending growth was flat. The drug-spending drop was credited to a shift toward greater use of generic drugs. The share of expenditures per capita paid out of pocket increased steadily and was 1.4 percentage points greater in 2011 than in 2007, according to the study. By 2011, insurers paid about 85.5 percent of per capita medical expenditures, while the remaining 14.5 percent was paid out of pocket.

The slowdown in overall spending growth occurred, according to the authors, because even as medical price growth accelerated, utilization slowed. For example, intensity-adjusted prices for inpatient admissions grew at a 5.2 percent annual average rate.

"Changes in the use of services and benefit design (such as uptake of consumer-driven health plans) may have influenced the distribution of payments between insurer and insured," the authors concluded.

Publication Date: Thursday, October 10, 2013