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Biggest Bucks In Health Care Are Spent On A Very Few

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So you know how on Monday the federal government reported that the $2.6 trillion the nation spent on health care in 2010 translated into just over $8,400 per person?

Well, a different study just released by a separate federal agency shows that second number doesn't actually mean very much.

Researchers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality looked at the way people actually spend money on health care. They found that half the population spends practically nothing on health care in any given year, while a very few unlucky people account for the lion's share.

Specifically, in 2009, just 1 percent of the non-institutionalized population accounted for 21.8 percent of all U.S. health spending. And just 5 percent accounted for half the total spending.

Meanwhile, the bottom half of the population accounted for a mere 2.9 percent of total health spending in 2009.

So just who are those high spenders? Sick people, obviously.

But in looking at who remained in that top spending tier in both 2008 and 2009, researchers found that the high spenders were more likely to be:

  • Elderly,
  • Female,
  • White and
  • Covered by public health insurance.

Conversely, those who spent the least were more likely to report themselves as being in good or excellent health and to be younger. They were also more likely to be Hispanic or African-American.

The numbers could have political implications. At the least they help explain why so many people don't understand the health care system. They either don't have health insurance or don't use it if they do.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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