Coloradans' spending on health care quadruples in two decades

Governor's commission releases report forecasts continued cost increases "without changes in the health system as a whole"

By David Olinger
The Denver Post

Posted:   11/16/2015 02:10:22 PM MST

Personal spending on health care in Colorado has quadrupled in the last two decades, mirroring a national trend of soaring medical costs.

"Health care spending has been rising as a share of household income for decades and is expected to keep rising," the Colorado Commission on Affordable Health Care has reported to Gov. John Hickenlooper and legislative committee leaders.

"Without changes in the health system as a whole, achieving cost sustainability or stability will be out of reach for most Coloradans," the report said.

The commission, created legislatively last year, stopped short of prescribing wholesale changes in its initial report.

Rather, it laid out numbers illustrating how rapidly medical costs have grown as a portion of our income.

According to the report:

• Colorado residents spent an estimated $36.3 billion for health care in 2013, a 327 percent increase in two decades. That compares to 216 percent nationwide, although Colorado's population growth accounts for some of that difference. Spending in Colorado has more than doubled since 2000 while cumulative inflation has been much lower at 33 percent.

• Health care spending increases with age, and Colorado's population is aging. People from 45 through 64 spend more than any other age group, and people older than 85 spent an average of $31,600 in 2013, nine times more than children 18 and under.

• Hospitals collect 37 cents of every health care dollar, but home health-care costs have grown fastest — 584 percent from 1991 to 2013.

The growing cost of health care in Colorado mirrors a long-term national trend. According to the report, total national spending on health-care services and supplies grew from 4.6 percent of gross domestic product in 1960 to 16.4 percent in 2013, or one-sixth of the national economy.

There is some good news for Colorado residents in the report.

In 2009, health-care spending per person averaged $5,994 in Colorado, the seventh lowest among the states. Utah was lowest at $5,031.

Since 2010, the annual growth in personal health care spending has tapered off to 3.6 percent a year in Colorado, or slightly higher than the annual inflation rate.

A weak economy, a trend toward outpatient hospital care, the Affordable Care Act, Medicare reimbursement changes and "the increased prevalence of high deductible plans," which "put pressures on consumers to reduce their consumption of health care services," contributed to the slowdown, the commission reported.

David Olinger: 303-954-1498, or @dolingerdp