"Since the end of the summer we have generally seen increasing annual growth rates, particularly with healthcare costs covered by commercial plans," Blitzer said in the report. "Last month's data, which was through November 2011, showed a modest deceleration; however, December's data has returned to the accelerated pace and this time it affected all types of healthcare costs.
The S&P Healthcare Economic Indices estimate the per capita change in revenues accrued each month by hospital and professional services facilities for services provided to patients covered under traditional Medicare and commercial health insurance programs.
The annual growth rates are determined by calculating a percent change of the 12-month moving averages of the monthly index levels versus the same month of the prior year.
Blitzer said healthcare costs began to accelerate in May 2009 and peaked in May 2010, before decelerating through the first half of 2011.
"Since then, growth rates started to once again accelerate, most notably for hospital costs and those covered by commercial insurance plans," Blitzer said. "In fact, our Hospital Commercial Index stands out as the one whose annual growth rate, +7.95%, is back to its May 2010 rate. We appear to be entering 2012 witnessing a renewed acceleration in healthcare costs."
Zirkelbach says health insurers should not bear the blame for rising healthcare costs.
"S&P is focusing on the price issue, not utilization," he says. "You're seeing healthcare cost growth not being has high as it used to be but that was due to decreased utilization, not prices. Prices continue to go up."
"As the trend of hospital consolidation continues we are seeing that it results in higher prices as more and more hospital systems attain dominant positions and are able to dictate terms," he says. "That is having a big impact as well."