Overall Health Care Spending Is Down In Massachusetts, But Patients Are Spending More

Medical bills are spread out on the kitchen table of a cancer patient. (AP File Photo)
Medical bills are spread out on the kitchen table of a cancer patient. (AP File Photo)

The cost of health care in Massachusetts continues to rise, but at a pace significantly below expectations.

The state Center for Health Information and Analysis (CHIA) finds health care spending grew 1.6 percent from 2016 to 2017, with costs totaling $61.1 billion. That's about $8,900 per resident.

2017 was the second consecutive year that overall growth came in below the 3.6 percent benchmark set by the Health Policy Commission.

"In fact, since 2013 the growth in health care spending has been, on average, below the benchmark and lower than national growth trends every single year," said HPC Chairman Dr. Stuart Altman in statement. "Underneath the headline number, however, are some areas that require further examination."

Small business premiums rose on average 6.9 percent. Deductibles, co-pays, co-insurance and other out of pocket expenses were up 5.7 percent. Spending growth on hospital outpatient services and prescription drugs also grew faster than the benchmark.

The CHIA report says some of the increase in so-called out of pocket expenses is likely due to the growing number of residents who have high deductible plans — 28.2 percent of the commercial market in 2017. The agency says the growth of such plans has disproportionately impacted members covered by small- and mid-size employers, as well as unsubsidized individual purchasers.

"We know that people with high cost sharing, high co-pays, high deductibles end up delaying care that they need and that leads to worsening of their conditions and higher costs later on," said Health Care for All policy director Brian Rosman. "So this has to be on the agenda for action."

MassHealth spending fell 0.2 percent. The number of residents on MassHealth dropped by 2 percent but spending per member increased because the cost of drugs and services rose.

“The Baker-Polito Administration prioritized managing down MassHealth’s unsustainable double digit growth immediately upon coming into office and is pleased to have saved taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars by strengthening the program’s internal controls and improving caseload management, while still ensuring nearly universal health coverage for the people of Massachusetts," said Brendan Moss, a spokesman for Gov. Charlie Baker, in an emailed statement.

Altman said that 12 years after leading the country in expanding access to health care, Massachusetts is leading the nation in slowing the growth of health care costs. HPC board member Rick Lord agrees.

"We should be proud that the commonwealth as a whole has achieved this pretty dramatic spending slowdown, in particular for MassHealth," said Lord, who is also president and CEO of the state's largest employer group, Associated Industries of Massachusetts. "But we haven't solved the problem and for small employers in particular health care costs continue to be a real challenge in terms of doing business in Massachusetts.

With reporting by WBUR's Martha Bebinger and Rachel Paiste, and The Associated Press

This article was originally published on September 12, 2018.



More from WBUR

Listen Live