NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Back Pain Big Toll on U.S. Health Dollar

January 29, 2004

Patients suffering from back pain consume more that $90 billion annually in health-care expenses, with approximately $26 billion of that amount directly attributable to treating the back pain, according to a team of Duke University Medical Center researchers.

  • The team found that 25.9 million adults reported back pain in 1998, with 172.7 million reporting no back pain.
  • The total $90 billion spent in 1998 represented 1 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and the $26 billion in direct back pain costs accounted for 2.5 percent of all health care expenditures for that year.
  • The annual per capita expenditures for patients with back pain were 1.6 times higher than those without back pain -- $3,498 vs. $2,177.
  • These increased expenditures were found in all categories: Inpatient charges: $1,075 vs. $774, Office visits: $910 vs. $425, Prescription drugs: $541 vs. $340, Outpatient care: $460 vs. $248, Home health $105 vs. $92, and Emergency room: $102 vs. $61.

The researchers found that health-care expenditures were not equally distributed among patients with different levels of expenditures. In each of the health services, the top 10 percent most expensive patients accounted for more than half of the total expenditures. Furthermore, the 25 percent most expensive patients accounted for more than 75 percent of the total expenditures.

When compared to those with private insurance, patients who had government-supported insurance had higher expenditures, especially in the areas of inpatient care, home health services and prescription drugs.

Source: Xuemei Luo et al., "Economic Impact of Back Pain Substantial," Duke University Health System, January 1, 2004.


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