January 13, 2017

ANN ARBOR, MI — Health care added a whopping 43,000 jobs in December, well above the 12-month average of 35,000 jobs, and bucking a 4-month trend of below-average growth. For the year, more than 400,000 health care jobs were added, representing one-fifth of total new jobs in the U.S., and propelling the health share of total employment to another all-time high of 10.82%.

National health spending in November 2016 grew at an annual rate of 5.0%, driven by hospital care growth at 5.8%, and restrained by prescription drugs which grew at only 3.5%.  Spending in 2016 is on pace for 5.4% growth, a welcome deceleration from the 5.8% growth in 2015, but above the 4.8% rate that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) projected for 2016 this past July. At $3.43 trillion, the health spending share of gross domestic product was 18.3% in October, tied with the all-time high we first estimated in May 2016.

Health care prices in November 2016 grew 2.1% above the November 2015 level, fractionally below the 2.2% annual growth rate recorded in October. This stability follows a period of steady price acceleration over the previous six months. After hitting a 24-year high, prescription drug price growth fell to a still high 6.0% rate, prices for physician services showed almost no growth, and hospital prices rose 1.6%—a low rate to be sure, but still the highest in over 2 years.

These data come from the monthly Health Sector Economic IndicatorsSM briefs released by Altarum’s Center for Sustainable Health Spending (http://www.altarum.org/healthindicators).

“We expected Quarterly Services Survey data  for the third quarter of 2016 to push our health spending estimate downward, and this turned out to be the case (as detailed in our December Health Sector Trend Report),” said Charles Roehrig, founding director of the Center. “While it now seems clear that the spending growth rate for 2016 will come in below the 5.8% official rate for 2015, we remain puzzled about the still high health hiring—particularly given the post-election uncertainties about the Affordable Care Act and a possible roll-back of expanded coverage. Perhaps December hiring reflects plans made prior to the election and we must await January data as an indicator of industry reaction.”

Contact Information
Sarah Litton
Manager, Communications and Public Affairs


Altarum is a nonprofit organization that creates and implements solutions to advance health among vulnerable and publicly-insured populations.