Prices rising more slowly as inflation cools

Health systems and consumers can take solace in signs that the rate of inflation may be slowing, but a return to normal price increases could still take time, The New York Times reported Dec. 1.

Prices measured by the personal consumption expenditures index, which the Federal Reserve monitors most closely, increased 6 percent year over year through October, according to the report. That was down from a 6.3 percent year-over-year spike through September. 

"Core" inflation — a measure that strips out food and energy costs — dipped slightly to 5 percent, according to The New York Times. While it can be volatile, the Fed sees this measure as important for predicting future inflation trends. The measure has remained around the 5-percent mark throughout the year, so while it is moving in the right direction, it is not conclusive. 

Other data pointed to a spike in consumer spending, rising incomes and stagnant jobless claims, suggesting signs of continued economic momentum, according to the report. 

Hospitals and health systems are closing out a significantly challenging year for finances with many operating margins hovering above zero or in the red, and an inflatin rate drop in the new year would provide some welcome respite. Hitting a 40-year high this summer, inflation continues to affect key hospital decisions with increasing labor costs, higher contractor costs, supply chain issues and premiums for high-demand technology and services.

These costs could be also passed on to the consumer, according to a survey conducted by Deloitte, which found that inflation concerns are already affecting consumers' healthcare decisions. Inflation is the top reason almost one-third of Americans are concerned about covering unexpected healthcare needs.

To offset rising expenses, some patients are delaying routine care, cancer screenings and preventive care, which can exacerbate health issues and later force people to visit high-cost settings such as the emergency room. These costs, some of which can be prevented, could ripple through the healthcare system and push health spending even higher, according to Deloitte. 

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