Mental health services lead U.S. spending outlays

The costs to treat mental health disorders far outstrips that of other medical conditions, according to a new study published in Health Affairs.

The U.S. spent $201 billion on mental health disorders in 2013, the most recent year for which data is available. Expenditures for heart conditions was $147 billion, second-highest on the list, according to study author Charles Roehrig, founding director of the Center for Sustainable Health Spending at the Altarum Institute.

Only about $122 billion was spent on cancer, considered one of the most expensive diseases to treat.

Close to half of the outlays for mental health services are originating in the military, likely exacerbated by ongoing armed conflicts in Iraq in Afghanistan over the past 15 years. Online services such as psychotherapy and apps for self-treating post-traumatic stress disorder have been examined in recent years as a way to reduce costs and improve the effectiveness of care.

Twenty years ago, heart conditions was by far the costliest medical condition, linked to $105 billion in expenditures, according to the study. By contrast, spending on mental health conditions was only $79 billion. But they had reached equal expenditures by 2004.

The study does not delve into the potential effect of the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008. The Obama administration has been pushing for actual enforcement of that law in recent months. But insurers have also been pushing for mental health services to be linked to value-based payments.

To learn more:
- read the study