Price tag for treating back problems now totals $30.5 billion

Research Activities, September 2010, No. 361

Treating back problems, one of the most bothersome medical problems, cost Americans more than $30 billion in 2007—up from $16 billion in 1997 (in 2007 dollars), according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). According to AHRQ's analysis, in 2007 about 27 million people, or nearly 12 percent of adults aged 18 and older, reported having back problems. Of those, more than 19 million sought medical treatment.

AHRQ also found that:

  • In 2007, two-thirds of the total spent for treatment of back problems went to pay physicians, chiropractors, and physical therapists for ambulatory care and for prescription drugs ($18 billion and $4.5 billion, respectively). This is up from $9.3 billion spent on office-based care and $1.2 billion on prescription drugs in 1997 (in 2007 dollars).
  • The remaining expenses in both 2007 and 1997 were for hospital care, emergency room visits, and home health services.
  • The average expenditure for treatment of back problems was $1,589 per adult in 2007 ($1,146 for ambulatory care and $446 for prescription drugs).
  • Out-of-pocket payments by patients accounted for roughly 17 percent of the total spent in 2007 for treatment of back problems; private health insurance accounted for 45 percent; Medicare 23 percent; and other sources, such as workers' compensation, 15 percent.

The data in this AHRQ News and Numbers summary are taken from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a detailed source of information on the health services used by Americans, the frequency with which they are used, the cost of those services, and how they are paid for.

For more information, go to Back Problems: Use and Expenditures for the U.S. Adult Population, 2007 at http://meps.ahrq.gov/mepsweb/data_files/publications/st289/stat289.shtml.

Current as of September 2010
Internet Citation: Price tag for treating back problems now totals $30.5 billion: Research Activities, September 2010, No. 361. September 2010. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Rockville, MD. http://archive.ahrq.gov/news/research-activities/sep10/0910RA36.html