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New MEPS publication identifies trends in health care expenditures

Overall health care expenditures increased to $895.5 billion in 2003, according to data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). Health care spending was heavily concentrated in a small portion of the total population. In addition, an increasing proportion of this population remained in the highest-cost groups from one year to the next, according to data from 2002 and 2003.

  • One percent of the population accounted for 22 percent of total health care expenditures in 2002. In other words, 1 percent of the total civilian noninstitutionalized population of 288 million accounted for $180.8 billion in health care spending, out of a total $810.7 billion spent on doctors, hospitals, prescription drugs, and other personal health care services.
  • This concentration in the top percentile is less than was found in 1996, when the top 1 percent accounted for 28 percent of all expenditures. However, more than a quarter (25.3 percent) of those in the top percentile in 2002 remained there in 2003. This reflects a near doubling of the proportion of people who remain in the top percentile from one year to the next, compared with 1996-1997.
  • People ranked in the top 5 percent of the health care expenditure distribution accounted for 49 percent of health care expenditures in 2002, and 34 percent of these individuals retained this ranking in 2003. The top 10 percent accounted for 64 percent of overall health care spending in 2002, and 41.8 percent of them remained in the top decile in 2003.
  • At the other end of the spectrum, the lower half of the population (144 million people) accounted for only 3 percent of overall health care spending ($27.6 billion out of the $810.7 billion total.

Details are in MEPS Statistical Brief #124: The Persistence in the Level of Health Expenditures over Time: Estimates for the U.S. Population, 2002-2003, , on the MEPS Web site at http://www.meps.ahrq.gov/mepsweb/data_files/publications/st124/stat124.pdf. [PDF Help]

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