Spending on health care for children covered by employer-sponsored insurance in 2013 grew faster than the total covered employee population, according to a new study by the Health Care Cost Institute, a nonprofit backed by large health insurers.
The study found that for children up to age 18 who are covered by their parent’s employer-provided health plans, spending rose an average of 5.7 percent per year between 2010 and 2013, compared with 3.9 percent per year for all individuals up to age 64.
Spending on children reached $2,574 per capita in 2013, a $391 increase from 2010, despite a drop in prescription drug use and emergency room visits. The Institute says the increase reflects rising health care prices.
Spending also increased for children’s inpatient services with the average price of an inpatient admission for a child reached $14,685 in 2013, up $744 from the previous year, the report said.
Sharp Increase in Use of Generics
Spending on children’s prescriptions grew more slowly in 2013 than previous years, due to a drop in overall prescription use by children and a continued shift from the use of branded drugs to generics.
Between 2011 and 2013, use of generic prescriptions for medications used to treat asthma and allergies rose more than 300 percent for babies up to age 3, more than 700 percent for younger children from age 4 to 8, more than 800 percent for pre-teens from age 9 to 13, and more than 500 percent for teenagers from age 14 to 18, the report said.
The use of branded versions of these drugs declined to nearly zero, the report said.
• There were fewer emergency room visits in 2013 for all groups of children. Teenage and pre-teen boys saw the largest declines: Visits for teen boys decreased by 11 visits per 1,000 teen boys in 2013, and visits for pre-teen boys declined by eight visits per 1,000 pre-teen boys.
• For teenage girls in 2013, labor and delivery admissions fell from five to four admissions per 1,000 girls, though admissions for mental health and substance abuse increased by 1 admission per 1,000 teen girls per year from 2010 to 2013, reaching 13 admissions in 2013.
• In 2013, spending for children up to age 18 was $2,716 per capita for boys and $2,426 for girls. However spending on health care for teen girls was $2,834 per capita compared with $2,661 for teen boys.
• Spending on children ages 4 to 8 was lowest at $1,703 per child in 2013, driven by the use of fewer medical services than the other children’s age groups.
More Spending Equals Better Outcomes
The Minneapolis StarTribune quoted Amanda Frost, senior researcher with the institute, saying spending increases in a given year are driven by higher prices, increased use of services or a combination of the two.
“Many people often quickly jump to the conclusion that more spending — when we have such high spending — is a bad thing,” Frost said. “But I think that we really have to keep in mind that we’re talking about spending on actual children.
“If more spending means better health outcomes for these children, then I think it’s a very good thing,” she said. “But we’re not really in the business of making those judgments.”
Kenneth Artz ([email protected]) is managing editor of Health Care News.
“Children’s Health Spending: 2010 – 2013,” Health Care Cost Institute, July 2015: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/childrens-health-spending-2010-2013
“Children’s Health Spending: 2010 – 2013 Appendix,” Health Care Cost Institute, July 2015: https://www.heartland.org/policy-documents/childrens-health-spending-2010-2013