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Costs of Treating Trauma Disorders Now Comparable to Medical Expenses for Heart Disease

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AHRQ News and Numbers

Release date: January 25, 2006

Spending to treat trauma disorders, such as from automobile accidents and violence, nearly doubled between 1996 and 2003, according to the Federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

This doubling raised trauma medical expenditures to a level comparable with that of heart disease, which in 1996 was the nation's number one medical problem in terms of treatment costs. More specifically, AHRQ's Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) found that:

  • In 1996, health insurers, government programs such as Medicare and Medicaid, and patients themselves spent $58 billion to pay for hospital inpatient care, office doctor visits, hospital outpatient care, emergency room visits, home health services and prescription medicines for heart disease.
  • In 1996, spending related to these services for trauma disorders cost $37.1 billion.
  • But by 2003, medical spending for trauma disorders had increased to $71.6 billion and heart condition expenditures had reached $67.8 billion, placing them at the highest positions in terms of expense.
  • Meanwhile, spending on cancer, which was about the same as that for trauma care in 1996 ($37.7 billion) moved down the list in 2003. Expenditures for treating cancer in 2003 year totaled $48.4 billion.
  • MEPS also found modest changes in the numbers of people with expenditures related to these conditions. In 1996, roughly 16.6 million Americans had expenditures for heart conditions. By 2003, that number had increased to 20 million.
  • In contrast, the number of Americans with medical expenditures for trauma care did not change and was just under 40 million in both 1996 and 2003.
  • The number of people with cancer-related medical expenditures changed modestly, going from 9.2 million in 1996 to 11 million in 2003.

MEPS collects information each year from a nationally representative sample of U.S. households about their health care use, expenses, access to services, health status, and the quality of the health care they obtained. MEPS is a unique government survey because of the degree of detail of the data, as well as the ability to link its data on health services spending and health insurance to demographic, employment, health status, and other characteristics of individuals and families.

This AHRQ News and Numbers is based on statistics found online in the MEPS Compendia of Tables. These data can be accessed at

For more information, or to speak with a MEPS data expert about the findings, E-mail Bob Isquith in AHRQ's Office of Communications and Knowledge Transfer at or call (301) 427-1539.


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