Health care’s $363 billion in ‘hidden costs’

Spending on health care goes billions of dollars beyond the costs of doctors, medications, hospitals and insurance, a new study shows.

The Deloitte Center for Health Solutions says that health care costs U.S. consumers $363 billion more  than what government traditionally reports as health spending.

Much of what the Deloitte study describes as the ‘’hidden costs’’  is the estimated value of unpaid care to others: services given by unpaid relatives and friends, provided mostly to people in lower-income families.

Other hidden costs include spending on nutritional products and vitamins, complementary medicine services and over-the-counter remedies, typically not covered by health insurance.

These costs, Deloitte says, push direct and indirect health care spending by consumers from 16.2 percent of the household budget — the  costs traditionally reported to the government — to 19.9 percent, making it the largest single item, surpassing housing and utility costs at 18.8 percent.

Total U.S. health care spending in 2009 was an estimated $2.83 trillion, a 26 percent increase from 2005, the Deloitte study noted.

“We have to define health care more broadly than doctors, hospitals, prescription drugs and insurance,’’ said Paul Keckley, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions. “We have to tackle this question of supervisory care, of the lost wages that people are now bearing to take care of medical problems for family members.’’

With the health spending burden mounting for families, Keckley added, “You can envision that certain households are having to make everyday decisions about forgoing other things like travel or even food because you have increasing number of dollars going to health care.’’

Ann Williams, 78, of Atlanta, who is legislative chair of the Georgia Council on Aging, said Monday that unpaid caregiving is commonplace. Williams said she at one time cared for her mother and a sister. “I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t helped them.’’

“You now have the sandwich generation who are taking care of their parents and their children,’’ Williams said. That caregiving situation may only increase in the future, she added.

Separately, in a not-so-hidden cost, The Associated Press reports Monday that a slight increase in Social Security benefits for millions of retirees will be swallowed up by a rise in premiums for Medicare, the government health insurance program for people 65 and older and the disabled.

That is rough news for retirees who have seen the value in their homes and investments decrease and who can’t find work to supplement their income, the AP notes.