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Health care spending for children covered by employer-sponsored insurance grew much faster than the total covered employee population over a three-year period, despite a drop in emergency room visits and prescription drugs, a new study shows.
Per capita spending for children reached $2,547 in 2013, a 5.7 percent increase from 2010, according to a report by the Health Care Cost Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based health care research group.
During that same time, spending on all covered employees up to age 64 grew at an average annual rate of 3.9 percent.
The study attributed the disparity to higher numbers of inpatient admissions to hospitals for children, especially newborns, and higher costs for those hospital stays.
The average price of inpatient admission for a child reached $14,685 in 2013, up by $744 from the previous year, according to the report, which analyzed claims data for 10.2 million children.
The biggest driver of the rise in hospital admissions was newborns up to 18 days old.
According to the report, health care spending for babies from newborn to 3 years old was $4,813 in 2013 compared with $1,703 for children 4 to 8; $1,854 for children 9 to 13; and $2,746 for teenagers 14 to 18.
Another key finding points to a gender gap in health care costs with baby boys costing $1,000 more on average than baby girls. Between 2012 and 2013, spending for baby boys rose by 7.7 percent to $5,307 per child. Spending for baby girls increased by 3.8 percent to $4,294.
“This figure was nearly $1,000 less than the spending for baby boys,” the study noted. “Growth in health care spending for baby boys, as compared to baby girls, was largely driven by increased use of professional procedures and increases in the average prices per service, specifically the average price per acute inpatient admission.”