May 20, 2004
The medical care price index increased 3.7 percent in 2003, the lowest calendar-year increase since 1999. Medical care prices paid by consumers rose 5.0 percent in 2002.
From 1998 to 2002, the rate of medical care inflation was higher each year than in the preceding year.
Lower price increases were reported for 2003 compared with 2002 for hospital services, physicians’ services, and prescription drugs and medical supplies. The hospital and related services index rose 6.4 percent, after rising 9.8 percent in 2002. Outpatient hospital services prices rose 6.6 percent, following a 12.7-percent rise in 2002. Inpatient hospital services prices rose 5.7 percent in 2003, after rising 9.4 percent during the prior year.
Physicians’ services charges rose 2.3 percent during 2003, after rising 3.2 percent in 2002. Fees for dental services increased 4.4 percent in 2003, following a 4.5-percent rise in 2002.
The index for prescription drugs and medical supplies increased 2.5 percent in 2003, compared with 4.5 percent in 2002. Several highly popular prescription drugs switched to over-the-counter status. When this change in status occurs, the over-the-counter version is priced in place of the prescription version; the item remains in the prescription drugs and medical supplies index until the next sample rotation.
These data are from the BLS Consumer Price Index program. Annual percent changes are December-to-December changes. Details on the calculation of the medical care CPI are in Measuring Price Change for Medical Care in the CPI. For additional information on consumer price changes in 2003, see "Consumer prices during 2003," by Todd Wilson, Monthly Labor Review, April 2004.