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Spending on Mental Disorders Surpasses All Other Diseases in the US

Cate Douglass
Mental disorders rank number 1 as the most costly of all health diseases in the United States, with a total estimated spending of $201 billion in 2013.
Mental disorders rank number 1 as the most costly of all health diseases in the United States, with a total estimated spending of $201 billion in 2013.

In a study published in Health Affairs, Charles Roehrig, PhD, founding director of the Center for Sustainable Health Spending at Altarum Institute, discovered that the total estimated spending on mental disorders far surpassed the runner ups. Heart conditions tallied a total of $147 billion, trauma following closely behind with $143 billion, spending on cancer came in at fourth place with $122 billion, and pulmonary conditions sat in fifth place with $95 billion.

Total estimated spending was last tested in a 2009 study that examined spending among US health conditions between the years 1996 and 2005 and had estimated heart conditions to be the most costly at $105 billion.

Roehrig’s study used similar principles as the previous research but this time, included the institutionalized population and those in the active military. The study found that 40% of the total estimated spending among those diagnosed with mental disorders belonged to the institutionalized group.

The study examined several different population groups, including civilian noninstitutionalized, nursing home residents, long-term patients in psychiatric hospitals, prisoners, and members of the military on active duty. Civilian noninstitutionalized accounted for 82% of the data collected, nursing home members constituted 15% of the data and the remaining groups made up just 3% of analyzed the information. The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data system aided in the collection, allocation, and analysis of data used in this research project.

The study also examined the fastest spending growth among these same groups of health conditions and discovered that mental disorders don’t even make the list. While mental health spending may have had the largest jump in dollar figures, it only rose 5.6% annually on average. Personal heath spending took first place in this list, which grew at an average rate of 5.9% annually.

Roehrig noted that a possible contributing factor as to why so many of these conditions grew in spending as quickly as they did was that nearly all of them were associated with obesity. Although, he explained that obesity-induced increases in disease prevalence couldn’t offer the full explanation.

“A more important factor appears to be the introduction of expensive new treatments that reached increasingly larger segments of the affected population over time, causing treated prevalence to rise much faster than the prevalence of disease,” Roehrig wrote. He added that Lipitor was a prime example of this, where its application to treat hyperlipidemia nearly doubled between the years of 2000 and 2012.

However, Roehrig emphasized the highlighted importance of understanding how far overall estimated spending on mental disorders surpassed the rest, where it’s usually underestimated because institutionalized populations are not always included in the research.

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