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Study Finds Low Back and Neck Pain Tops US Health Spending

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A new study, published in this month’s JAMA, found Americans in 2016 spent an estimated $380 billion on low back and neck pain, as well as on joint and limb pain, and other musculoskeletal disorders. In total, $3.1 trillion – or $9,655 per person, about 17.9% of the US GDP – was spent on health care by a combination of individuals and public and private insurance. In 1996, that percentage was 13.3% of GDP, with a total amount of $1.4 trillion, or $5,259 per person.

The study – US Health Care Spending by Payer and Health Condition, 1996–2016 – by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine sought to estimate US spending on health care according to 3 types of payers (public insurance [including Medicare, Medicaid, and other government programs], private insurance, or out-of-pocket payments) and by health condition, age group, sex, and type of care for 1996 through 2016. Government budgets, insurance claims, facility records, household surveys, and official US records from 1996 through 2016 were collected to estimate spending for 154 health conditions. Spending growth rates (standardized by population size and age group) were calculated for each type of payer and health condition.

Among the 154 conditions included in this study, low back and neck pain generated the highest expenditures at $134.5 billion. When combined with all other musculoskeletal disorders, such as joint and limb pain, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis, the total exceeds $380 billion, or 14.1% of the $2.7 trillion included in this study for 2016. Other health conditions with substantial spending in 2016 were diabetes ($111.2 billion), ischemic heart disease ($89.3 billion), and falls ($87.4 billion).

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