A pharmacist fills a prescription drug order at a pharmacy  in Chicago, Ill.
A pharmacist fills a prescription drug order at a pharmacy in Chicago, Ill. - 
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According to a new report, health care spending grew more than 4 percent last year, reversing a downward trend.

In the past, researchers have relied on government data, from Americans enrolled in Medicare, to get insights into health care spending.  For the first time, they had access to new data, from four major insurance companies: Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthcare.

David Newman is the executive director of the Health Care Cost Institute, which authored the report. He says he and his colleagues sifted through six billion claims.

“It is centralized, standardized, and then, analyzed,” Newman says.

Health care spending went up after a couple of years of going down. During and immediately after the recession, Americans avoided the doctor because they didn’t want to pay out-of-pocket costs. But the new data indicate spending has gone back up because costs have gone up

“There has been a suspicion that we have higher prices in the United States than in other countries, and now this data actually confirms that,” Vivian Ho says. She is the James A. Baker III Institute Chair in Health Economics at Rice University.

The information is also incredibly useful to researchers and clinicians, like Ashish Jha, the C. Boyden Gray Associate Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“Data like this give us insights into how we begin to fix the high costs of our health care system,” he says.  If policymakers can pinpoint why spending has gone up, they can narrow their focus to bring it back down.

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Follow David Gura at @davidgura