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Eye care costs rose just 0.7% during 2011

April 2, 2012

The Eyeglasses and Eye Care Services Index, compiled by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), increased a mere 0.7 percent during 2011. That was well under last year’s overall inflation rate of 3 percent and a fraction of the 3.5 percent increase posted for health care costs overall during 2011, according to BLS Consumer Price Index (CPI) data.

Virtually every year since the government first began tracking them, increases in patient charges related to eye care have trailed both the overall inflation rate and increases in charges related to most other health care services.

Prices for eyewear and professional fees for eye care increased 0.3 percent in 2010.

The overall inflation rate was 1.5 percent that year.

In determining the nation’s rate of health care cost inflation, the BLS tracks a variety of care-related charges, from hospital and nursing home services, to professional fees charged by health care practitioners, and the prices of health care products.

The Eyeglasses and Eye Care Services Index has traditionally risen more slowly than the BLS’ other professional health services indices.

That is because, unlike other BLS professional health service indices, the Eyeglasses and Eye Care Services Index reflects both fees for professional services and the cost of related health care commodities (specifically eyeglasses and contact lenses).

Professional fees tend to rise faster than prices for health care-related commodities, according to the BLS.

In addition, eyewear, unlike many other health care commodities, is often placed “on sale” by retailers.

As a result, sale pricing is often reflected in the BLS Eyeglasses and Eye Care Services Index.

As in most years, eye care-related charges last year not only increased less than the fees charged for any other health care service but less than almost any other health care-related cost.

Eyeglasses and eye care services were trailed in the BLS health care inflation survey last year only by nonprescription pharmaceuticals, which increased a scant 0.1 percent, and medical equipment and supplies, which decreased in price 0.4 percent.

Other health costs

The 3.5 percent increase in the overall cost of health care in 2011 (up slightly from a 3.3 percent increase in 2010) reflected a 3.6 percent increase in medical care services (which rose 3.4 percent in 2010), a 3.2 percent increase in medical care commodities (up from a 2.9 percent increase in 2010), and a 6.1 percent increase in the cost of health insurance (which decreased 4 percent in 2010).

Like other Consumer Price Index data, the BLS medical care indices are limited to items with an out-of-pocket expenditure.

In the case of health insurance, out-of-pocket expenditures are defined to include the portions of health insurance premium amounts paid by consumers.

The 3.6 percent increase in medical care services last year came as a result of a 2.2 percent increase in professional services (which rose 2.7 percent in 2010) and a 5.3 percent increase in fees for hospital care and related services (down from the 6.7 percent increase recorded in 2010).

The 2.2 percent increase in fees for professional services during 2011 reflected a 2.7 percent increase in fees for physicians’ services (down from the 3.4 percent increase recorded in 2010).

It also reflected a 2.2 percent increase in fees for dental services (down from a 2.7 percent increase in 2010) and a 1.3 percent increase in fees charged by other medical professionals (which rose 1.8 percent in 2010), as well as the 0.7 percent increase in charges for eyewear and eye care.

Costs for hospital and related services rose due to a 5.8 percent increase in fees for hospital services (which rose 7.6 percent in 2010) and a 2.9 percent increase in costs for nursing home services and adult day care (down from the 3.1 percent increase recorded in 2010), and a 1.9 percent increase in the cost of care for invalids and the elderly at home (up from the 1.5 percent increase recorded in 2010).

The 5.3 percent increase in costs for hospital services reflected a 6.2 percent increase in fees for inpatient services (down from the 9.2 percent increase recorded in 2010) and a 5 percent increase in fees for outpatient services (down from a 5.1 percent increase in 2010).

Medical care commodities rose 3.2 percent over the course of 2011 as the result of a 3.4 percent increase in the cost of medicinal drugs (up slightly from a 3.1 percent during 2010) and a 0.4 percent decrease in costs for medical equipment and supplies (which decreased 0.1 percent in 2010). 

The increase in the cost of medicinal drugs came as the result of a 4.1 percent increase in prices for prescription drugs (identical to the 4.1 percent increase in 2010) and a 0.1 percent increase in the cost of nonprescription drugs (which decreased 1 percent in 2010).

It is important to note that eye care-related costs tend to change at various rates around the nation, the BLS emphasized.

The BLS Eyeglasses and Eye Care Services Index is based on approximately 680 quotes for services provided by opticians, optometrists, and ophthalmologists.
They include eye exams, dispensing of eyeglasses and contact lenses, office visits, and surgical procedures performed in a health care practice or hospital. Statistics cited are percentage increases in the indices (U.S. city averages, all urban consumers) from December 2010 to December 2011, not seasonally adjusted.

Price index data for eyewear and eye care, various other segments of health care, and the economy overall – including breakouts by city, region and market size – can be found on the Bureau of Labor Statistics Data website (http://data.bls.gov/PDQ/outside.jsp?survey=cu).

Table 1: Eyeglasses and Eye Care Services Indices by year

1987 -– 5.3 percent

1988 -– 4.7 percent

1989 -–  3.4 percent

1990 — 4.5 percent

1991 -– 3.6 percent

1992 -– 3.7 percent

1993 — 2 percent

1994 -– 3.3 percent

1995 -– 2.4 percent

1996 -– 1.2 percent

1997 -– 1.6 percent

1998 -– 1.8 percent

1999 -– 3.1 percent

2000 -– 2.4 percent

2001 -– 2.8 percent

2002 -–  -–0.3 percent (decrease)

2003 -– 1.5 percent

2004 -– 2.9 percent

2005 -– 3.1 percent

2006 -– 2.0 percent

2007 -– 1.5 percent

2008 -– 0.3 percent

2009 -– 1.7 percent

2010 -– 0.3 percent

2011 – 0.7 percent

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