Nevada health cost stats fueled by boom years

CARSON CITY, Nev. (AP) — Nevada’s growth rate in health care expenditures over the last few decades is tied to the boom years that brought tens of thousands of workers to the Silver State when the economy was on overdrive, health experts said.

Statistics provided by the Kaiser Family Foundation showed that from 1991-2009 Nevada had the highest-in-the-nation average annual growth rate of health care expenditures, averaging 9.2 percent.

That time span correlates with the state’s explosive population growth, said John Packham, director of health policy research at the University of Nevada School of Medicine.

From 1990 through 2000, Nevada’s population ballooned 66 percent, according the U.S. Census data.

Many of those newcomers were drawn to Nevada’s gambling mecca of Las Vegas, where megaresorts rose from the desert seemingly overnight, employing battalions of construction workers, and later, leisure and hospitality workers.

The high average annual health care expenditure growth referenced in the Kaiser report reflects that many of those workers had access to employer-paid insurance, meaning there was more money available and spent on health care.

Coverage and growth drive up the use of medical services.

In 2009, as recession strangled the economy and unemployment soared, Nevada’s health spending per capita was $5,735, the fifth lowest in the nation. Only Arizona, Georgia, Idaho and Utah had lower per-capita spending that year, according to Kaiser.

Some data suggests costs have declined in recent years, said Larry Matheis, executive director of the Nevada State Medical Association. But because coverage and growth drive up the use of medical services, he said it’s too soon to tell if Nevada’s low per-capita spending is attributable to federal health care reform or the large number of people left uninsured in the wake of the recession.

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