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A healthy appetite for health care? How supply and demand may affect the costs and consumption of health care services


Health care has improved considerably in the past couple of decades, in terms of both quality and access. Yet, with health care costs on the rise in recent years, it’s also a topic of many heated discussions. Supply factors could be behind the increase in costs for health care services, but would also have a negative impact on their demand. On the other hand, higher demand for health care services would increase both the price and quantity consumed.

With FRED’s personal consumption expenditures price index data, we use the graph above to show the ratio of the price index for health care services to the overall price index for all goods and services in the economy. (The base year is set to 1999.) We can see that health care services are about 10 percent more expensive today, relative to all other goods and services, than they were 18 years ago.

The graph below shows, in billions of chained 2009 dollars, the amount spent on health care as a share of total consumption spending. (It’s important to keep in mind that the series displayed here mute the effect of changes in the price levels, as prices are “fixed” to the levels in 2009.) We can see an increasing trend for the past 18 years, indicating that the amount of health care consumed, as a share of total expenditures, has also been rising. This also implies that consumer spending on health care has been increasing more than consumer spending on other types of goods.

These graphs suggest that some demand factors could be behind the increased cost of health care, as both the price and the consumption of health care services, relative to other components of consumption, have increased. Some possible demand factors could be related to longer life spans, the demand for newer and more expensive procedures, and so on. Our analysis here is stylized, but further research should look at this issue more closely to try to illuminate the supply and demand factors behind the rising cost of health care.

How these graphs were created: For the first graph, search for “Personal Consumption Expenditures: Services: Health care (chain-type price index)” and select the quarterly, seasonally adjusted series. From the “Edit Graph” section, under “Units,” select “Index (Scale value to 100 for chosen date)” and set the date to 1999-01-01. Then use the “Add Line” option to add the quarterly and seasonally adjusted series for “Personal Consumption Expenditures (chain-type price index).” Apply the same adjustment to set the index to 100 for 1999-01-01. Then apply the formula a/b. Set the starting date for the graph to 1999-01-01. For the second graph, search for “Real Personal Consumption Expenditures: Services: Health care” and select the quarterly, seasonally adjusted series. Then, from the “Edit Graph” section, use the “Add Line” option to search for “Real Personal Consumption Expenditures,” quarterly, seasonally adjusted. Then apply the formula a/b.

Suggested by Maximiliano Dvorkin and Asha Bharadwaj.

View on FRED, series used in this post: DHLCRG3Q086SBEA, DHLCRX1Q020SBEA, PCEC96, PCECTPI


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