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Hidden costs make health care far bigger consumer expense than government estimates, study says Posted: March 28th, 2011

By John Frook

Health insurance coverage, doctor bills, prescriptions and hospital care make up the lion's share of U.S. consumer spending on health care, but according to a new study from the consulting firm Deloitte, consumers are spending an additional $363 billion that's not accounted for by the U.S. government.

In 2009, the U.S. government measured consumer spending on health care at $2.47 trillion but the total health expenditure was closer to $2.83 trillion, Deloitte said.

The Deloitte study, "The Hidden Cost of U.S. Health Care for Consumers: A Comprehensive Analysis," suggests that 19.9 percent of the average American's total discretionary spending goes toward health care costs, which means more is spent on health-related costs than housing or utility expenditures.

The difference between government health care spending estimates, captured in National Health Expenditure Accounts data, and Deloitte's figures are expenditures that fall outside of traditional areas. The non-traditional category measured by Deloitte includes nutritional supplements, alternative medicines and ambulance trips, as well as unpaid supervision of the sick and elderly by relatives and friends, Deloitte said. In fact, 55 percent of hidden costs were for supervisory care, and almost all of that was provided by friends or relatives to people in low-income families, Deloitte said.