Without those changes, national spending on health care in 2003 - the latest year for which data are available - would have increased 8 percent to 8.5 percent, said Kenneth Thorpe, the chair of the health policy management department at Emory University in Atlanta. Health spending probably picked up again in 2004, Thorpe said.
"This is false good news. . . . It appears to be a onetime thing. I wouldn't make too much of this," Thorpe said.
The new Medicare prescription-drug benefit, which begins in 2006, plus an aging population and likely new restrictions on the purchase of cheaper prescription drugs from Canada, probably will fuel the growth of health-care spending in the future. And because it grew nearly 3 percentage points faster than the overall economy in 2003, it consumed a record 15.3 percent of the nation's gross domestic product, the sum of all the goods and services produced. The previous high was 14.9 percent in 2002.
The increase in health-care spending also outpaced average wage growth of 2.9 percent in 2003. That fact, coupled with job losses and a struggling economy, helps explain why private health-insurance enrollment declined by nearly 1 percent in 2003 for the third year in a row.
"When health-care trends rise faster than incomes, it means that, inevitably, some people will be priced out of the health-care market," said Paul Ginsburg, the president of the Center for Studying Health System Change, a nonpartisan health-research group in Washington.
While growth in public-health spending slowed considerably in 2003 - up 6.6 percent, compared with 9.3 percent in 2002 - private-sector spending growth remained relatively stable.
One factor - private health-insurance premiums - grew more slowly than it did the previous year for the first time since 1996. But out-of-pocket patient spending grew 7.6 percent and was the only major health-care funding source to grow faster in 2003 than in previous years, the report found.
Contact reporter Tony Pugh at 202-383-6013 or firstname.lastname@example.org.