Health care cost in mid-Atlantic among highest


WASHINGTON -- Residents of mid-Atlantic states spend more on health care than those of most other areas of the United States, according to a federal analysis of regional health care spending being released today.

Per capita spending in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, New Jersey and Washington nearly tripled from 1980 to 1991, rising from $739 to $2,105, the study says.

This put a dent in family budgets as the percentage of personal income spent on health care leaped from 6.9 percent to 9.5 percent.

Though it focused on regions, the study made note of Maryland because the state has a unique system of hospital rate-setting that has helped restrain hospital costs.

But the savings Maryland experienced in hospital costs appeared to have been offset by higher spending on physicians' services. While hospital spending per capita increased only 7.6 percent from 1980 to 1991, spending on visits to doctors rose 11.9 percent -- 1.4 percent faster than the nation as a whole.

The study points out a possible cause: In Maryland, the number of physicians per capita increased 38 percent, topping the average for all regions of the country. There were no state-by-state breakdowns.

The study, commissioned by President Clinton's health care reform task force earlier this year, will be published today in the fall issue of the journal Health Affairs. It will help the administration calculate state-by-state health spending budgets. Such budgets, backed up by limits on how much insurers can raise premiums, are a key cost-control feature of the president's reform plan.

Four officials of the Baltimore-based Health Care Financing Administration did the study, the first regional analysis in 10 years of spending on hospital care, physician services and prescription drugs, which make up 70 percent of all health spending.

Nationally, per capita health care spending increased from $697 to $1,887 from 1980 to 1991; as a percent of personal income, it rose from 7 percent to 9.8 percent.

Per capita spending is highest in New England, $2,112, followed closely by the mid-Atlantic region. It is lowest in the Rocky Mountain states, $1,567.

Trying to explain why per capita spending is higher in some areas, the study's authors cited three possible factors: Regions with the highest spending had the highest increases in personal incomes, and higher-than-average growth in the number of physicians and hospital surgeries.

Health spending rose faster in New Hampshire and slowest in Illinois, the study said.

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