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Study: Mental health most costly for U.S. healthcare

By
Stephen Feller
Healthcare spending has outpaced the GDP, and current rates of use and costs of services leads researchers to expect growth seen since the mid-1990s to continue. Photo by Christian Delbert/Shutterstock
Healthcare spending has outpaced the GDP, and current rates of use and costs of services leads researchers to expect growth seen since the mid-1990s to continue. Photo by Christian Delbert/Shutterstock

ANN ARBOR, Mich., May 20 (UPI) -- Conversation in recent years has focused on the need to invest more in mental health care in the United States, and a new study shows mental health already takes up much more healthcare spending than any other type.

The new study, conducted at the Center for Sustainable Health Spending, found mental health outpaces other types of care -- including heart conditions, trauma, cancer and pulmonary conditions -- when factoring in institutionalized patients.

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Overall healthcare spending has grown by 5.9 percent since 1996, while the gross domestic product, a basic measure of the economy, has grown at just 4.3 percent, Dr. Charles Roehring reports in the study, published in the journal Health Affairs.

Roehring posits that some of this is tied to changes in healthcare delivery because of insurance, such as the managed care systems of the late 1990s and later consumer blowback, as well as expensive new treatments driving up the numbers, and not necessarily the amount of care delivered.

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"Most of the fastest-growing medical conditions, in terms of spending, are associated with obesity, yet heart conditions and cerebrovascular disease -- which are also associated with obesity -- have exhibited very low spending growth," Roehring wrote in the study. "Age-adjusted death rates for these two conditions have been declining, and research suggests the importance of reductions in smoking, other lifestyle improvements, better control of risk factors such as hypertension and hyperlipidemia, and improvements in treatment."

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The top five health conditions in the country by spending is mental health at $201 billion, followed by $147 billion on heart conditions, $143 billion for trauma, $122 million on cancer and $95 billion on pulmonary conditions.

While other studies have put mental health third on this list, Roehring said including institutionalized populations in his calculations is more accurate, and necessary as the population ages and requires those services more often.

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Actual spending on mental health led all other types of health-related spending, however its growth -- 5.6 percent, resulting in $38 billion of excess spending -- is lower because new treatments for other health conditions are often much more expensive than previous standards.

Even with the high numbers, Roehring said the mental health is likely to continue to grow and outpace other areas of healthcare.

"A look ahead suggests that reductions in deaths from heart conditions and cerebrovascular disease are likely to drive spending on mental disorders even higher, as more people survive to older ages -- when mental disorders, such as dementia, become more prevalent," Roehring wrote.

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