Back Report: Mental Health Spending Higher than All Other Health Conditions

Report: Mental Health Spending Higher than All Other Health Conditions

Mental health spending — specifically, the amount spent on the treatment of mental health disorders — now exceeds that of all other health conditions, according to a study published in Health Affairs in May.

The study, conducted by Charles Roehrig, PhD, a prominent healthcare economist and the Founding Director of the Altarum Institute's Center for Sustainable Health Spending, found that spending on mental health disorders had reached $201 billion in 2013 — significantly more than spending on any other health condition.

Mental Health Spending Outpaces Heart, Trauma, Cancer & Pulmonary Conditions

Highest 5 Health Conditions in Terms of Spending

1. Mental Health Disorders: $201 billion

2. Heart Conditions: $147 billion

3. Trauma: $143 billion

4. Cancer: $122 billion

5. Pulmonary Conditions: $95 billion

Source: HealthAffairs/The Washington Post

"The populations included for the calculations included non-institutionalized civilians, nursing home residents, long-term patients in psychiatric hospitals, prisoners and active-duty military," writes Amy Ellis Nutt for the Washington Post.

The study findings "represent a shift in spending from 1996, when annual spending on heart conditions was $105 billion compared with $79 billion for mental disorders," reports the American Psychiatric Association (APA).

Dr. Roehrig, the study leader, sought to explain that shift. “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,” Dr. Roehrig wrote.

Mental Health Spending: 'We Need to Spend Wisely'

Dr. Roehrig also pointed out that the rise in mental health spending isn't necessarily caused by a rise in costs. Since 1996, mental health spending has risen about 5.6 percent per year, "which is right around the average rate for all diseases," as the APA report puts it.

"Although mental disorders cover a wide range of illnesses, including schizophrenia, postpartum depression and anxiety, as a category, during those years, they didn't rank high on the increased-spending list, which was led by such conditions as liver disease, diabetes and back problems," Nutt explains. "The rise in personal health spending for mental disorders, in fact, was just below average, at 5.6 percent. Nearly all the conditions listed in this top-10 tally relate to obesity."

“While non-institutional mental health care is significantly less expensive, this study should be not misread to mean we need to invest less in mental health care,” commented APA President Maria Oquendo, M.D. “The reality is that we need to spend wisely.”

"This spending may only be the tip of the mental health iceberg, however," the HealthLeaders Media report points out. "Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States — 43.8 million, or 18.5% — experiences mental illness in a given year."

"Only 41% of adults with a mental health condition received mental health services in the past year," the HealthLeaders report continues. "Among adults with a serious mental illness, just 62.9% received mental health services in the past year, reports the National Alliance on Mental Illness."

What does this rise in mental health spending mean for America's healthcare facilities? Along with the looming shortage of mental health physicians, demand for reliable, high-quality locum tenens mental health practitioners has become high. If you represent an organization seeking to hire locum tenens psychiatrists or other mental health practitioners to maintain continuity of services within your community we invite you to reach out to Locum Leaders today. We'll work with you to ensure your facility is equipped with a locum mental health staffing plan now and in the years to come.

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