The good news, federal government figures showed last week, is that the annual rise in health care costs slowed to about 10 percent in 1983 -- down from 12.5 percent in 1982 and 15.3 percent, a record breaker, in 1980.
But the bad news is that Americans spent an unprecedented $355.4 billion for health care last year -- a trend reflected in mounting expenses for consumers.
Last year, consumers paid $350 per person in health expenses -- $30 more than in 1982 and about $50 more than in 1981. "They're paying more dollars than ever before even though consumer dollars represent a smaller share of total health care spending," says economist Daniel Waldo of the federal government's Health Care Financing Administration.
Health spending from all sources totaled about $1,459 for every man, woman and child in 1983, according to figures released by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). The federal government picked up the tab for some $173 per person to pay for "general costs" such as federally funded research, construction of health care facilities and public health programs, Waldo says. The remaining $1,286 went to "the provision of personal health care."
Of that amount, $511 more came from government funds. Private health insurance picked up approximately $410 and consumers paid the rest -- which amounted to about $350.
Last year's record health care expenditure represents 10.8 percent of the gross national product. Although medical expenses are still climbing faster than the GNP, which grew 7.7 percent in 1983, a lower inflation rate, cost-cutting measures by the health care industry and government reforms that put ceilings on spending have slowed the medical cost growth rate to 10.3 percent -- the lowest annual increase in a decade, according to HHS figures. Health spending rose an average of 13.1 percent a year from 1972 to 1982.
Will a slower growth rate mean that consumers will ultimately pay less for health insurance? Maybe. But even if premiums drop, Waldo says, it will probably mean a shift to higher out-of-pocket expenses for services not covered by insurance.