Health care costs rose faster than inflation in Washington State

March 4, 2022

If you live in Washington state and feel as though you spent a lot more on health care the past several years, it’s because you did.

A new report from Washington’s Office of the Insurance Commissioner found health care costs across the state rose 13% between 2016 and 2019. Health care costs grew 7% during that period, far faster than the consumer price index, which measures the average cost for goods and services.

“For years, we’ve seen the cost of health care grow, especially with advances in technology and prescription drugs,” Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler said in a news release. “These increases have impacted how much people pay for their health insurance. We need to get a handle on what’s driving costs if we want to address the issue and help lower health insurance premiums. This report helps us take a much closer look at what’s behind health care cost increases and understand whether it’s the use of health care services or their price that is contributing more to the growth in costs.”

The report relied on private insurance claims data provided to the state between 2016 and 2016 for people up to age 64. The analysis identified the areas that accounted for significant cost increase, including; pharmacy, acute inpatient care, outpatient emergency care, outpatient non-emergency care and ambulance services.

Among the findings:

  • The total medical and pharmacy spending per patient in the privately insured group was $373, rising to $422 in 2019.
  • Pharmacy spending rose 19.2%; with a 15% increase in the average cost to fill a prescription. The number of prescriptions filled increased by 4%.
  • Costs for outpatient services – in hospitals and ambulatory surgery centers – rose by 17%.

Over the next several months, the commissioner’s office will analyze and release additional data that provides cost information for prescription drugs, mental health services, hospitals and ambulances. Are you a Washington state resident who is paying a lot more for health care? Share your story with Voices for Affordable Health.