Open Access Research article

Decomposition of the drivers of the U.S. hospital spending growth, 2001–2009

Vivian Y Wu1*, Yu-Chu Shen2, Myeong-Su Yun3 and Glenn Melnick1

Author Affiliations

1 Sol Price School of Public Policy, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA, USA

2 Graduate School of Business and Public Policy, Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, CA, USA

3 Department of Economics, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, USA

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BMC Health Services Research 2014, 14:230  doi:10.1186/1472-6963-14-230

Published: 21 May 2014



United States health care spending rose rapidly in the 2000s, after a period of temporary slowdown in the 1990s. However, the description of the overall trend and the understanding of the underlying drivers of this trend are very limited. This study investigates how well historical hospital cost/revenue drivers explain the recent hospital spending trend in the 2000s, and how important each of these drivers is.


We used aggregated time series data to describe the trend in total hospital spending, price, and quantity between 2001 and 2009. We used the Oaxaca-Blinder method to investigate the relative importance of major hospital cost/spending drivers (derived from the literature) in explaining the change in hospital spending patterns between 2001 and 2007. We assembled data from Medicare Cost Reports, American Hospital Association annual surveys, Prospective Payment System (PPS) Impact Files, Medicare Provider Analysis and Review (MedPAR) Medicare claims data, InterStudy reports, National Health Expenditure data, and Area Resource Files.


Aggregated time series trends show that high hospital spending between 2001 and 2009 appears to be driven by higher payment per unit of hospital output, not by increased utilization. Results using the Oaxaca-Blinder regression decomposition method indicate that changes in historically important spending drivers explain a limited 30% of unit-payment growth, but a higher 60% of utilization growth. Hospital staffing and labor-related costs, casemix, and demographics are the most important drivers of higher hospital revenue, utilization, and unit-payment. Technology is associated with lower utilization, higher unit payment, and limited increases in total revenue. Market competition, primarily because of increased managed care concentration, moderates total revenue growth by driving lower unit payment.


Much of the rapidly rising hospital spending growth in the 2000s in the United States is driven by factors not commonly known or well measured. Future studies need to explore new factors and dynamics that drive longer-term hospital spending growth in recent years, particularly through the channel of higher prices.

Hospital; Oaxaca-Blinder; Decomposition; Prices