Published Online: Wednesday, November 1, 2006

A recent study found that Americans spent less on prescription drugs last year than the year before. As a result, health care costs grew by the same amount as previous years, according to an analysis by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

In 2005, consumer spending grew at an annual rate of 7.4%. The 2006 growth rate, based on spending data for the first quarter of the year, is 7.7%. In the past year, spending increased on hospital care, physician services, home health agencies, and ambulance services.

The report also pointed out that spending on health care continues to rise, compared with overall US economic growth. The increases were balanced by spending on prescription drugs. Prescription drug costs grew by 4.8% last year, a decrease from 8.3% in 2004.

Paul Ginsburg, president of the center, said that the pharmaceutical industry could be a contributor in reducing costs in the near future as well. For instance, Merck's patent for Zocor (simvastatin) expired in June 2006. Patients are expected to save money once its generic competitors enter the marketplace.

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