WASHINGTON National health spending climbed to $2.7 trillion in 2011, or an average of $8,700 for every person in the country, but as a share of the economy, it remained stable for the third consecutive year, the Obama administration said Monday.
Federal officials could not say for sure whether the low growth in health spending represented the start of a trend or reflected the continuing effects of the recession, which crimped the economy from December 2007 to June 2009.
Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services, said the statistics show how the Affordable Care Act is already making a difference, saving money for consumers. But the report issued by her department said that so far the law had had no discernible impact on overall health spending.
Although some provisions of the law have taken effect, the report said, their influence on overall health spending through 2011 was minimal.
The recession increased unemployment, reduced the number of people with private health insurance, lowered household income and assets and therefore tended to slow health spending, said Micah B. Hartman, a statistician at the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
In their annual report, federal officials said that total national spending for prescription drugs and doctors services grew faster in 2011 than in the year before, but that spending for hospital care grew more slowly.
Medicaid spending likewise grew less quickly in 2011 than in 2010 as states struggled with budget problems. But Medicare grew more rapidly because of an increase in the volume and intensity of doctors services and a one-time increase in Medicare payments to skilled nursing homes, said the report published in the journal Health Affairs.
National health spending grew at roughly the same pace as the overall economy, without adjusting for inflation, so its share of the economy stayed the same, at 17.9 percent in 2011, where it has been since 2009. By contrast, health spending accounted for just 13.8 percent of the economy in 2000.
Health spending grew more than 5 percent each year from 1961 to 2007. It rose at double-digit rates in some years, including every year from 1966 to 1984 and from 1988 to 1990.
The report did not forecast the effects of the new health care law on future spending. Some provisions of the law could increase spending, officials said.