NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Five Percent of Patients Account for Half of Health Care Spending

January 13, 2012

Just 1 percent of Americans accounted for 22 percent of health care costs in 2009, according to a recent federal report.  That's about $90,000 per person, according to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.  U.S. residents spent $1.26 trillion that year on health care, says USA Today.

While the report showed how a tiny segment of the population can drive health care spending, the findings included good news -- in 1996, the top 1 percent of the population accounted for 28 percent of health care spending.

The report's findings can be used to predict which consumers are most likely to drive up health care costs and determine the best ways to save money, said Steven Cohen, the report's lead author.

  • About one in five health care consumers remained in the top 1 percent of spenders for at least two consecutive years, the report showed.
  • They tended to be white, non-Hispanic women in poor health; the elderly; and users of publicly funded health care.
  • Five percent accounted for 50 percent of health care costs, about $36,000 each.

The report also showed these characteristics of patients in the top 10 percent of health care spenders in 2008 and 2009:

  • Eighty percent were white.
  • Sixty percent were women.
  • Forty percent were 65 or older.
  • Only 3 percent were ages 18 to 29.
  • Only 2 percent were Asian.

The study also found that Hispanics, 16 percent of the population in 2009, spent less on health care. Twenty-five percent of Hispanics were in the bottom half of health care spenders, the report showed, while only 7 percent of Hispanics were in the top 10 percent of spenders.

Source: Kelly Kennedy, "5 percent of Patients Account for Half of Health Care Spending," USA Today, January 12, 2012.

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