NEW YORK (MainStreet) — A new industry report suggests that consumers are spending more on health care goods and services than previously thought.

According to a study conducted by the Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, the “hidden costs” of health care total $368 billion more than what government estimates indicate.

Americans currently spend $8,389 a year per person on health care, including the cost of insurance premiums, copays for doctors visits, prescription drugs and medical procedures, according to a government analysis commissioned in late 2010.

But Deloitte says this figure doesn’t account for other health care expenditures that have become increasingly popular in the current economic climate.

“Our study suggests that as the U.S. economy struggles to rebound and consumers continue to be stretched to pay their bills, they are confronted with difficult choices, such as paying for health care instead of other household expenses,” Paul Keckley, executive director of Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, said in a press release. 

Keckley explained that the high costs of traditional health care, coupled with budget constraints, have led many consumers to turn to alternative and over-the-counter products, to use generic medicines, or to visit retail clinics instead of doctors as a way to save money.

Other additional expenses not captured by government estimates – which traditionally tabulate insurance-related costs like premiums, deductibles, and co-payments – include ambulance services, alternative medicines, nutritional products and vitamins, weight-loss centers and supervisory care of elderly family members.

According to Deloitte, once you factor in these expenses, total U.S. health care expenditures in 2009 were an estimated $2.83 trillion, a 26% increase from $2.25 trillion in 2005.

To complete its research, Deloitte looked at the most recent available health care spending data from the government. It also polled 1,008 U.S. adults over the phone between Sept. 29 and Oct. 4, 2010. The survey results are what indicated consumers’ increasing reliance on alternative methods of treatment.

“The ability of the U.S. economy to recover will be affected in part by how much consumers have in their pockets to spend,” Andrew Freeman, executive director of the Deloitte Center for Financial Services, said. “This reveals a tremendous burden on the average consumer.”

Deloitte did find that health care spending is still dominated by big ticket “necessary expenditure” items, such as hospital care ($760 billion), professional care ($832 billion) and prescription drugs ($246.3 billion).

Total discretionary costs for health care reached an average of $1,892 per person in 2009.

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