Dental Spending Continues to Grow

Dental spending increased to $81.5 billion in 2004 but at a pace below the growth rate for all health care spending, government actuaries said in an annual report on spending trends.

"The share of health expenditures devoted to dentistry remains steady at just above 4 percent even though the total amount of money spent on dentistry has passed the $81 billion mark," said Dr. Al Guay, ADA chief policy advisor. "Dentistry continues to do a good job in holding costs down, as dental spending increased almost 2 percent less than general health care spending."

Total U.S. health care spending grew more slowly in 2004 than in the previous three years, increasing by 7.9 percent over the previous year compared with the 6.1 percent increase in total dental expenditures for the same period, the report said.

Patients paying out-of-pocket and private insurance covered more than 94 percent of the nation's dental bill, or $76.7 billion, with public funds, mostly federal and state Medicaid, covering the rest in 2004. Private payers played a greater role than public payers in slowing the rate of health care spending overall, the report said.

The private fund total breaks down to $36.1 billion spent out-of-pocket for dental services and $40.5 billion from private health insurance. The total public expenditure of $4.9 billion includes $4.2 billion in federal and state Medicaid spending. The $81.5 billion represents 4.3 percent of the aggregate $1.9 trillion health care expenditure.

The report issued annually by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services' Office of the Actuary.

"While the growth rate is declining, the cost of health care continues to be a concern for government, business, individuals and families," said Secretary Mike Leavitt of the Department of Health and Human Services, CMS parent agency.

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