Americans spend the most on this condition

Americans spend the most on this condition

Talk about sticker shock.

Americans devoted $3.2 trillion – more than 17 percent of the entire U.S. economy – to health care spending in 2015. The number is so large it can be difficult to wrap your head around. (Take a quick detour here to visualize a measly $1 trillion.)

So on what, exactly, do we spend all this money?

Researchers who recently published a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association sought to answer exactly that, breaking down how patients and their insurers spent health care dollars by 155 distinct diseases and conditions.

Examining data from 2013, way back when personal health spending totaled just $2.1 trillion, they found that diabetes cost Americans more than any other single illness. Diabetes was responsible for $101.4 billion in costs, with the majority of spending on pharmaceuticals to treat the condition. Ischemic heart disease tallied $88.1 billion, while lower back and neck pain cost Americans $87.6 billion.

“The best way to save money on health care is to not have to use the health care system that much,” says Dr. Tony Hampton, a family medicine physician with Advocate Health Care, who notes that several of the chronic conditions topping the list are usually preventable, including diabetes. “Diabetes patients who follow diet recommendations often get off their medications very quickly.”

Americans need to spend more resources at the front end, educating people about diet and nutrition and how to stay healthy, Dr. Hampton says. “By doing that, we’ll dramatically reduce the cost of care.”

Below is a ranking of the top 15 conditions by cost. Since cancer was disaggregated into 29 separate conditions, none were among the most expensive.

  1. Diabetes — $101.4 billion
  2. Ischemic heart disease — $88.1 billion
  3. Lower back and neck pain — $87.6 billion
  4. Hypertension treatment — $83.9 billion
  5. Falls — $76.3 billion
  6. Depressive disorders — $71.1 billion
  7. Oral surgeries, procedures and disorders—$66.4 billion
  8. Sense organ diseases (cataracts, vision correction, adult hearing loss and macular degeneration) — $59 billion
  9. Skin and subcutaneous diseases (cellulitis, sebaceous cysts, acne and eczema) — $55.7 billion
  10. Pregnancy and postpartum care — $55.6 billion
  11. Urinary diseases and male infertility — $54.9 billion
  12. COPD — $53.8 billion
  13. Hyperlipidemia treatment — $51.8 billion
  14. Dental well care (general exams, cleanings, orthodontia, X-rays) — $48.7 billion
  15. Osteoarthritis — $47.9 billion

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  1. I agree with Dr. Hampton’s assumptions except it really doesn’t work that way for people like myself. I am 57 years old and recently retired and in excellent physical health. I exercise between 1 to 2 hours a day, 6 days a week. Doctor visits are only for annual checkups which are exemplary. I visit a chiropractor and homeopath four times a year (neither of which are covered by insurance). I take no prescription medications whatsoever and yet my Health Insurance premiums are astronomical, having skyrocketed an extra 58% for 2017. So, here I am continuing to remain healthy and yet having nothing but rising health care premiums. How fair is that? Using the medical system minimally doesn’t give me any financial breaks whatsoever. In fact the financial burden has increased.

  2. What about cancer and the costs for treatments?

  3. I find it amazing that Alzheimer’s and/or other forms of dementia are not on this list. Were they considered?

  4. I was not surprised to read that Diabetes was #1 on the list. Like Ralph Scalise said in the comments above, it’s a nice idea from Dr. Hampton for us to save my money by not having to use the health care system…but that isn’t a reality for all of us. I also wish Dr. Hampton would’ve clarified by saying that SOME people with TYPE 2 Diabetes have been able to get off meds by other means. I was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes when I was 8. There was nothing I did to get this and nothing I could’ve done to stop it. Unfortunately, in order to stay as healthy as I am, it has cost me a lot of money on my Diabetes supplies (insulin pump, insulin, blood testing strips, etc), and on visits to all of my doctors, making sure I stay in good health (endocrinologist, retinal specialist, foot doctor, dentist, cardiologist, etc.). I’m thankful to be in good health, and proud of the hard work I’ve done to be here…but unfortunately, it isn’t cheap!!!

  5. Marjorie Pomonis January 11, 2017 at 7:29 am · Reply

    Not all diabetics can get off medication by watching their diet. People who have type 1 diabetes do not produce insulin so controlling by diet alone is not an option!

  6. Adam Mesirow

    Janet, Alzheimer’s was 21st on the list. When aggregated, neurological disorders accounted for $101 billion in spending. See this chart:
    To explore even further, take a look at this interactive tool:

    Jen and Marjorie, thanks for your comments. To clarify, Dr. Hampton did say that diabetes patients who follow diet recommendations can *often* get off their medications, but he did qualify the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 during our interview. Since Type 2 diabetes patients represent more than 95 percent of all diabetes patients, the point still stands. But your notes and readership are very much appreciated.

About the Author

Adam Mesirow
Adam Mesirow

Adam Mesirow, health enews managing editor, is media relations director of Advocate Aurora Health. Securing high-profile media placements for more than a decade, he loves to tell a good story. Adam earned a Bachelor’s degree in Public Policy from the University of Michigan. He lives in Chicago and enjoys playing sports, reading TIME magazine and a little nonsense now and then.