In what researchers say is a troubling sign about the state of American children’s health, a new study has found spending on medical care for kids is rising faster than adults, with teens now accounting for the most costs.
The Children's Health Care Spending Report: 2007-2010, compiled by the nonprofit Health Care Cost Institute, found annual costs have risen nearly 19 percent – to $2,123 per child – over the past four years.
This rise in spending occurred despite a decline in number of insured children and a drop in the use of costly health care services, such as hospital stays and brand-name drugs, says the Children's Health Care Spending Report: 2007-2010.
Among the key factors: rising prescription drug use among children over 9 years of age; increased mental health services; and growing costs for outpatient visits (which skyrocketed 34.4 percent over four years).
"Children tend to use less expensive health care, so a bump in children's health care spending is troubling because it could indicate that kids are getting sicker or receiving unnecessary tests or excess procedures," said Martin Gaynor, with Carnegie-Mellon University. "The data on spending for mental health and substance abuse services is particularly worrying. We need to look further into why there is such a high use of prescription drugs for mental health problems among children and whether this expenditure is yielding valuable health outcomes."
Among the report’s findings:
• Insurers and consumers spent nearly $88 billion on health care for children in 2010, up nearly 12 percent from 2007.
• About 40 percent was spent on professional procedures such as primary care office visits, immunizations and preventive care. On average, $855 was spent per child, a 16.5 percent increase from 2007.
• Utilization of mental health and substance abuse services by children rose nearly 24 percent over the four year period.
• Use of mental-health drugs – including antidepressants, anti-anxiety drugs, and drugs used to treat attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder – jumped more than 10 percent.