(HealthDay News) – Overall national health expenditures were marked by a fourth consecutive year of low growth, according to a report from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.

In 2012, national health expenditures grew at an annual rate of 3.7%, continuing the trend of low growth. There was also a decline in health spending as a share of gross domestic product, from 17.3% in 2011 to 17.2% in 2012.

According to the report, private health insurance spending growth remained low, increasing 3.2% in 2012, compared with 3.4% in 2011. Medicare spending growth also continued to be low, increasing by 4.8% in 2012, compared with 5% growth in 2011; Medicaid spending grew at a historically low rate of only 3.3% in 2012. Prescription drug spending was also low, growing only 0.4% in 2012, partly due to many drugs losing their patent protection. Nursing home growth spending also slowed in 2012. Although the Affordable Care Act contributed to the slow growth for the Medicare program, its effect was limited.

“For the second straight year, we have seen overall health care costs grow slower than the economy as a whole,” CMS Administrator Marilyn Tavenner said in a statement. “We will continue to work with tools given to us by the Affordable Care Act that will both help us control costs for taxpayers and consumers while increasing the quality of care.”

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