Ordinary American consumers are spending huge amounts on health care each year, but they may be paying a smaller portion of the bills than they realize.

A typical 4-member family that belongs to a typical employer-sponsored preferred provider organization plan will generate a total of $12,214 in physician, hospital and prescription drug bills this year, up 9.1% from the total for 2004, according to researchers at Milliman Inc., Seattle.

Although many health care experts have claimed to see signs of moderation in health care costs this year, the 2005 increase is down only slightly from the 10% average that Milliman researchers have calculated for the previous 3 years.

Milliman researchers also have found signs that the idea that employers and health carriers are making aggressive efforts to shift costs onto employees’ shoulders may be exaggerated.

“Though consumer dollars of cost-sharing continue to grow, their percent of the total health care spending is actually shrinking,” Milliman researchers write in a report on their analysis.

The members of Milliman’s benchmark family will have to pay $2,035 in medical bills out of their own pockets, but their out-of-pocket costs have increased only 6% since 2004.

During the current decade, 2003 has been the only year when the benchmark family’s out-of-pocket costs have increased faster than the PPO’s costs, Milliman researchers write.

Bill Thompson, a consulting actuary in Milliman’s Hartford office, led the team of researchers that assembled and analyzed the health care spending data.

The team is using the analysis as the basis for a new Milliman Medical Index data series.

Milliman helps many health carriers set rates and care standards, and it helps many large employers negotiate for lower rates. Its researchers can draw on databases that include information about actual claims filed by more than 15 million health plan members, Milliman says.

‘Though consumer dollars of cost-sharing continue to grow, their percent of the total health care spending is actually shrinking’