Five Percent Of Americans Account For Half Of Health Care Costs

The cost of health care may have gone up for almost all Americans in recent years, but a handful of consumers are getting hit especially hard.

Just five percent of Americans accounted for half of the country's health care costs in 2009, according to a report from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Though the findings indicate that a small share of the population is responsible for much of the country's health care costs, the concentration right at the top is actually going down, the report found -- one percent of Americans accounted for 22 percent of health care costs in 2009, down from 28 percent in 2008.

Baby boomers -- those between the ages of 45 and 64 -- and the elderly were overly represented among the top health care spenders, the report found. Women and white Americans were additionally overly represented among the top health care spenders.
Children and young adults were disproportionately represented among the bottom half of spenders.

Relief from skyrocketing health care costs may be in sight. Overall health care spending as a share of the nation's economy stabilized in 2010, after two years of slow growth, according to a government report released earlier this month. Still, if health care spending is only stabilizing because of the sluggish economy, costs may not be slowing for good.

Indeed, if current estimates prove correct, the nation's health care spending is on track to comprise a fifth of the U.S. economy by the end of the decade, according to a July report from Medicare's Office of the Actuary. Should that prediction prove true, it would be up from the roughly 17 percent of GDP health care spending accounted for last year.

This is nothing new; domestic health care spending has been on the rise for years. In 2008, Americans spent more than three times on health care than what they spent just 18 years before, according to a Kaiser report. Health care costs accounted for more than 15 percent of U.S. gross domestic product by that time -- one of the highest rates of industrialized nations.

The rising cost of paying medical bills has hit Americans especially hard in recent years. The total number of Americans with health insurance fell in 2010 for the first time in decades, CNNMoney reports. All told, the number of Americans without health insurance rose to 49.9 million that year, according to Census Bureau data.