Medical prices grew 0.1 percent, versus a decrease of 0.1 percent for all other items, in December’s Consumer Price Index. Prices for prescription drugs actually decreased 0.3 percent, even better than the small price increase in the Producer Price Index (PPI).
Prices for physicians’ services were flat, however, whereas they had jumped in the PPI. Because CPI measures prices as observed by consumers and PPI prices as observed by producers, this suggests that prices paid to physicians by non-consumers (i.e., third parties) have increased more than prices paid by consumers. This supports the principle that when consumers face prices directly, prices go up less than when intermediated by third parties.
Overall, medical care inflation was tame in December. Longer term, it still significantly outpaced the CPI other than medical care, by two percent over the year (Table I).