Piggy bank and stethoscope resting on pile of dollars. Wavebreakmedia Ltd Getty Images/Wavebreak Media
Piggy bank and stethoscope resting on pile of dollars. Wavebreakmedia Ltd Getty Images/Wavebreak Media

Editorials

Mental illness is most expensive condition

THE EDITORIAL BOARD

May 20, 2016 07:15 PM

UPDATED June 01, 2016 10:34 AM

Something is wrong with the system.

Mental disorders, which include Alzheimer’s disease, accounted for $201 billion in medical spending in 2013, with heart conditions a distant second at $147 billion, a new report says.

Though Americans are spending over $200 billion on healthcare for mental disorders, there doesn’t seem to be any foothold on tackling this epidemic.

Charles Roehrig, founding director of the Center for Sustainable Health Spending at Altarum Institute, wrote the latest study, breaking down Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services’ National Health Expenditure Accounts by medical conditions.

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“As the nation seeks to achieve spending growth rates that are sustainable, emphasize value, and improve population health, it is important to develop approaches to tracking health care spending by categories that offer insight into the underlying health conditions driving this spending,” Roehrig, with colleagues, wrote in 2009.

But it doesn’t seem to be resulting in effective treatment.

In the 2009 study, the authors illustrated in that in 2005, $142.2 billion was spent on mental disorders, which also included Alzheimer’s disease. In the same year, $123.1 billion was spent on all heart conditions.

Fast forward to last week, Roehrig released an update showing the “most costly conditions in the United States” in 2013.

Annual spending on mental disorders rose almost $60 billion, while spending on heart conditions only increased about $25 billion.

Even with all the money being spent on mental disorders, mental illnesses still remain the leading cause of disability in the United States. Suicide is still one of the top causes of death.

Healthcare providers are still having problems providing care, and jails are still being used as temporary healthcare facilities.

Why is there such a frustrating gap? Americans are obviously seeking out care for mental disorders, but it doesn’t seem to be bringing the numbers down.

The Texas House Mental Health Select Committee is trying to answer this question in time for legislative session next year. It’s up to lawmakers, and voters, to help fix this broken system.