In other words, while growth in coverage has leveled off in 2016, the trend in health care spending has not returned to pre-Affordable Care Act (ACA) levels. Using data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) that incorporates the most recent Census Bureau Quarterly Services Survey (QSS), the report shows trends in two major categories of health care spending, prescription drugs, and health care services.
In a notable role reversal, the primary spending driver of late appears to be health care services. The BEA data suggest that growth in drug spending has been declining since the end of 2014, in part because of reductions in both utilization and price of Hep C therapies. After growing at rates above overall trend since 2014, spending growth on prescription drugs has fallen to an estimated four percent in the third quarter of 2016. The rate of growth in spending on health care services, however, has been increasing since the last quarter of 2015, surpassing drug spending for the second straight quarter at a growth rate of roughly six percent.
Furthermore, the respective roles of prices and utilization defy common expectations. In the case of prescription drugs, it would appear that price growth has been increasing, which implies that the decline in overall spending is led by reduced growth in utilization. In the case of health care services, the reverse seems to be the case, as prices appear flat, suggesting that utilization has led to the growth in spending.