Compiled by the non-profit, non-partisan Health Care Cost Institute, the database will allow researchers to slice and dice more than 3 billion medical claims for more than 33 million individuals in search of answers.
The previously confidential information, scrubbed of identifying details, is being provided by three of the nation’s largest insurance companies: Aetna, Humana, and UnitedHealthcare--whose combined customers account for about 20 percent of Americans under age 65 who are insured through an employer.
Until now, researchers have had to extrapolate from far smaller surveys of employers, or rely on government claims statistics from Medicare, which are almost exclusively limited to Americans over age 65.
On Monday, the institute offered a first look at its findings, in a report that largely confirmed previously identified trends, but added intriguing details.
For instance, analysts have been puzzling over why, after more than a decade of alarming growth, health-care spending is now rising more slowly.
Institute researchers were able to put numbers to one of the most popular theories: People are using less health-care.
According to the report, from 2009 to 2010 people with employer-sponsored insurance had 3.3 percent fewer admissions to hospitals and other medical facilities, 3.1 percent fewer “outpatient” visits to such facilities, and virtually no change in the number of procedures performed at doctor’s offices. (There was a slight increase in two categories: procedures performed at medical facilities, which went up by 2 percent, and use of prescription drugs, which increased by just under 1 percent.)
“People had speculated that there was a decline in utilization, but by analyzing over 3 billion claims we now know not only the trend but the magnitude of the trend,” said David Newman, the institute’s executive director. “It’s one thing to believe something, it’s a completely different thing to actually know it.”
It is likely that much of the dip in utilization is connected to the recent recession and sluggish recovery. Faced with a loss of income, wealth, or job security, patients could be putting off non-urgent care.
But many analysts argue the drop-off is too significant to be accounted for by economic factors alone. And Monday’s report also fleshed out details of another possible explanation: The rising price patients must pay for care.
In 2010 the average out-of-pocket payment for an admission to a hospital or other facility went up by more than ten percent to $700. The total charge for an outpatient visit--which can include an emergency room visit or surgery that does not require an overnight stay--also rose ten percent, reaching $162.