Study: Mental health patients cost most, but little is spent on treatment

The Mental Health Association of Maryland is highlighting a study that finds people with both behavioral and physical health conditions are among the highest-cost patients, yet only 5 percent of health care spending goes to mental health treatment. The study, conducted by Milliman Inc.,  looked at the health care costs and treatments of 21 million Americans.



The key findings show that only 27 percent of the 21 million individuals in the study had a behavioral health diagnosis or received behavioral health treatment, yet they accounted for 56.5 percent of the total health care costs for the entire study population. Half of the 5.7 million individuals who received a behavioral health diagnosis received less than $68 per year in mental health treatment. More than 95 percent of health care spending was used for physical treatment and only 4 percent was used for behavioral health.

The most expensive 10 percent of patients accounted for 70 percent of the total health care costs and 57 percent were diagnosed with a behavioral health condition. Yet, this group only represents 5.7 percent of the total study participants.

“This report’s findings should provoke a wake-up call across all of America,” Linda Raines, CEO of the Mental Health Association of Maryland said in a statement. “For many, the behavioral health impact of the pandemic could be just as deadly as the virus. We can ill afford to continue to ignore the devastating lack of access to mental health and substance use care endured by millions of Americans. Health care costs will rise and more lives will be lost if we fail to act.”

The coronavirus pandemic has worsened the situation with data showing a national increase in reported mental health and substance abuse disorders and calls to crisis hotlines climbing 1,000 percent. Studies show that for every 1 percent increase in unemployment rates, suicides increase by 1.6 percent and opioid deaths jump by 3.6 percent.

“The current crisis in behavioral health is tragic for human reasons, and this study makes it clear that it is for financial reasons as well,” John Miller, executive director of the MidAtlantic Business Group on Health, said in statement. “The Path Forward provides a road map to address this challenge, and all employers should rally behind it. We can achieve equitable access to high-quality mental health care, and we need to do it now.”