From the Journals

Diabetes, ischemic heart disease, pain lead health spending

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Following the money

Dieleman et al. have “followed” the health care money, and the trail could ultimately lead to the United States changing how it spends a staggering, almost unimaginable amount – roughly $3.2 trillion in 2015 – on health care.

At the very least, their data indicate that the United States should pay more attention to managing physical pain, controlling the costs of pharmaceuticals, and promoting lifestyle interventions that prevent or ameliorate obesity and other factors contributing to diabetes and heart disease.

Ezekiel J. Emanuel, MD, is provost of the department of medical ethics and health policy at the Perelman School of Medicine and in the department of health care management at The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. He reported receiving speaking fees from numerous industry sources. Dr. Emanuel made these remarks in an editorial comment accompanying Dr. Dieleman’s report (JAMA 2016;316:2604-6. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.16739).



Diabetes, ischemic heart disease, and back and neck pain are the top three conditions accounting for the highest spending on personal health care in the United States, according to a report published online Dec. 27 in JAMA.

In addition, spending on pharmaceuticals – particularly diabetes therapies, antihypertensive drugs, and medications for hyperlipidemia – drove much of the massive increase in health care spending during the past 2 decades, said Joseph L. Dieleman, PhD, of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, University of Washington, Seattle, and his associates.

A pile of money copyright Kativ/

Recent increases in health care spending are well documented, but less is known about what is spent for individual conditions, in different health care settings, and in various patient age groups. To assess health care spending across these categories, the investigators collected and analyzed data for 1996 through 2013 from nationally representative surveys of households, nationally representative surveys of medical facilities, insurance claims, government budgets, and other official records.

They grouped the data into six type-of-care categories: inpatient care, ambulatory care, emergency department care, nursing facility care, dental care, and prescribed pharmaceuticals. “Spending on the six types of personal health care was then disaggregated across 155 mutually exclusive and collectively exhaustive conditions and 38 age and sex groups,” with each sex being divided into 5-year age groups, the researchers noted.

Based on these data, the investigators came to the following conclusions:

• Twenty conditions accounted for approximately 58% of personal health care spending, which totaled an estimated $1.2 trillion in 2013.

• More resources were spent on diabetes than any other condition in 2013, at an estimated $101.4 billion. Prescribed medications accounted for nearly 60% of diabetes costs.

• The second-highest amount of health care spending was for ischemic heart disease, which accounted for $88.1 billion in 2013. Most such spending occurred in inpatient settings.

• Low-back and neck pain, comprising the third-highest level of spending, cost an estimated $87.6 billion. Approximately 60% of this spending occurred in ambulatory settings.

• Among all 155 conditions, spending for diabetes and low-back and neck pain increased the most during the 18-year study period.

• Among all six types of care, spending on pharmaceuticals and emergency care increased the most during the study period.

It is important to note that for the purposes of this study, cancer was disaggregated into 29 separate conditions, and none of them placed in the top 20 for health care spending, Dr. Dieleman and his associates noted (JAMA. 2016;316[24]:2627-46. doi: 10.1001/jama.2016.16885).

When spending was categorized by patient age groups, working-age adults accounted for the greatest amount spent in 2013, estimated at $1,070.1 billion. But that was followed closely by patients aged 65 and older, who accounted for an estimated $796.5 billion, much of which was spent on care in nursing facilities. The smallest amount of health care spending was in children over age 1 and adolescents, who accounted for an estimated $233.5 billion.

Among the other study findings:

• Spending on pharmaceutical treatment of two conditions, hypertension and hyperlipidemia, increased at more than double the rate of total health care spending. It totaled an estimated $135.7 billion in 2013.

• Other top-20 conditions included falls, depression, skin disorders such as acne and eczema, sense disorders such as vision correction and hearing loss, dental care, urinary disorders, and lower respiratory tract infection.

This work was supported by the National Institute on Aging and the Vitality Institute. Dr. Dieleman and his associates reported having no relevant financial disclosures.

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