News with clear eyes. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)

U.S. group health cost increases slowed in 2010, and what increases occurred were due mainly to price increases, not growth in use of services.

Analysts at the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), Washington, have published figures supporting those conclusions in a review of insurance claims data for 33 million individuals. All of the individuals were enrolled in employer-sponsored health plans insured or administered by Aetna Inc., Hartford (NYSE:AET); Humana Inc., Louisville, Ky. (NYSE:HUM); Kaiser Permanente, Oakland, Calif.; and UnitedHealth Group Inc., Minnetonka (NYSE:UNH).

The four insurers joined to form HCCI in September in an effort to promote research on U.S. health care costs.

For the first cost study, the HCCI analysts have looked at data from claims filed from 2007 to 2010.

Overall per-capita spending for the consumers in the database increased just 3.3% between 2009 and 2010, to $4,255, down from a 5.8% increase in 2009.

Patients underwent more outprocedures, but use of all other types of care  dropped.

The number of inpatient hospital admissions per 1,000 group plan insureds fell 3.3%, for example, to 60.9.

The number of outpatient visits per 1,000 group plan insureds fell 3.1%, to 311, and the number of professional procedures per 1,000 insureds fell 0.3%, to 15,444.

The number of outpatient procedures per 1,000 insureds rose 2%,  to 2,435.