Income Disparities in the Prevalence, Severity, and Costs of Co-occurring Chronic and Behavioral Health Conditions

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Abstract

Background:

Behavioral health problems usually co-occur along with physical health problems, resulting in higher health care costs. These co-occurring conditions are likely to be more prevalent and serious among low income patients, affecting both the quality and costs of care.

Objective:

To examine the prevalence, severity, and health care costs of co-occurring chronic and behavioral health conditions among low income people compared with higher income people.

Methods:

Analysis of the 2011–2014 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Sample includes 146,000 persons aged 18–64 years. Regression analysis was used to examine how the combination of behavioral health conditions and chronic health conditions is associated with health care expenditures, and how this association differs by family income.

Results:

(1) Comorbid behavioral health problems are more prevalent and serious among low income people with chronic conditions compared with higher income people; (2) among patients with co-occurring chronic and behavioral problems, average annual spending is greater among the low income patients ($9472) compared with high income patients ($7457); (3) higher costs among low income patients with co-occurring conditions reflects their poorer mental and physical health, relative to higher income patients.

Conclusions:

For many low income people, comorbid behavioral problems need to be understood in the social context in which they live. Simply screening low income people for behavioral health problems may not be sufficient unless there is greater understanding of the mechanisms that both cause and exacerbate chronic and behavioral health problems in the low income population.

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