Bodily Injury Liability Prices and Overall Inflation

By Dr. Steven Weisbart, Chief Economist, Insurance Information Institute 

There is good news on the bodily-injury liability insurance front, but no one seems to have noticed. The cost of health care for severely-injured people has barely increased in the last year.

Primarily, bodily injury (BI) liability insurance pays for the medical bills of people who have been severely injured due to the negligence of the insured. As a result, the severity of BI claims would tend to track price changes for inpatient and outpatient hospital services, where severely-injured people would go to get treatment and recover. And lately, these price changes have been shrinking—big time.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics calculates a price component for each of these each month as part of the various versions of the Consumer Price Index (CPI).[1] On June 12 the BLS published its latest data for May 2019.

For inpatient hospital services, the change in prices was +1.2 percent, when compared to prices a year earlier, in May 2018. For outpatient hospital services, the change in prices was even smaller (+0.9 percent), when compared to prices a year earlier.

To put these numbers in some context, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)—the most widely-used measure of inflation—rose by 1.8 percent in May 2019 vs. May 2018. Many economists prefer to measure inflation without the effect of price changes for food and energy, which are notoriously volatile. This measure is known as the core CPI. Its May 2019 vs. May 2018 change was 2.0 percent.

When was the last time that any healthcare costs—let alone for hospital services—rose at a slower rate than general inflation? Of course, many other factors affect claims for bodily injury liability, but this is a welcome trend for a significant element.

[1]The most familiar index is the Consumer Price Index for All Urban Consumers (CPI-U)—prices as experienced by all urban consumers, but BLS also publishes CPI-W (prices as experienced by urban wage earners and clerical workers).