It’s no secret that health care costs are on the rise. To many, this is as inevitable as death and taxes. But what, exactly, is behind this steady increase? A study commissioned by The Path Forward for Mental Health and Substance Use provides some answers.
There isn’t just one factor driving health care costs, but a new report that examined 21 million people with commercial health insurance found that Americans with mental health conditions and substance use disorders in addition to physical health problems play a significant role in the increase in health care costs. Despite this, health care spending for mental health and substance use behavioral issues is low.
The Path Forward for Mental Health and Substance Use, a private sector initiative focused on creating market-based improvements in beahvioral health care, teamed with a Seattle consulting firm in the large-scale study. Their findings help shed light on the disparity between health care costs and spending. Of the 21 million Americans with health insurance who were included in the study,
- The 10 percent with the highest health care costs accounted for 70 percent of annual total health care costs
- 57 percent of the most expensive patients experienced mental health or substance use disorders
- About half of all patients with mental health or substance use behavioral issues saw less than $68 of their total health care costs applied toward behavioral treatment
- Another 25 percent of patients with behavioral issues had between $68 and $502 of their total spending used for behavioral treatment
What does this mean? In order to gain control over rising costs, it’s imperative that employers, health insurers and providers work together to improve access to affordable in-network specialty behavioral providers. Equally important, they should concentrate on detecting behavioral issues as early as possible and tracking clinical outcomes. Primary care settings that focus on both physical and behavioral problems represent an effective collaborative care environment that would benefit everybody.
At least one prominent individual is on board with the study’s findings. Arthur Evans, Jr., CEO for the American Psychological Association, said, “If we focus more on intervening with individuals when they first begin showing signs of a behavioral health condition, even before they have a behavioral health diagnosis, we can improve health outcomes, as well as minimize the need for and cost of care later.”
Additionally, many experts fear COVID-19 could lead to an increase in suicide and mental illness. This makes it even more imperative to focus on reforming the health care system from top to bottom in order to prevent even more exorbitant costs post-pandemic.