Health disparities cost the US economy $451B annually: NIH

The price tag of inequities in healthcare cost the U.S. economy more than $451 billion annually, according to a study published May 16 in JAMA and led by the National Institutes of Health. 

Out of all 50 states, 46 were found to have an annual economic burden related to healthcare's correlation to education level that outpaced the annual growth rate of the U.S. economy, researchers reported. 

Excess medical care costs and lost labor market productivity are two factors that drive the high cost. Specifically, this is tied to disproportionately high premature mortality rates for the Black population and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders, according to the report. Individuals who do not have a high school education were also found to be more likely to have a premature mortality rate.

Additionally, the groups who carry the majority of the economic burden per person associated with health disparities include: 

  • Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders at $23,225 annually

  • American Indian/Alaska Natives at $12,351 annually

  • Black individuals at $7,797 annually

  • Latino/Latinx individuals at $1,643 annually

  • Asians at $487 annually

"This study is the first to estimate the total economic burden of health disparities for five racial and ethnic minority groups nationally and for all 50 states and the District of Columbia using a health equity approach." the NIH news release states. "It is also the first study to estimate the economic burden of health disparities by educational levels as a marker of socioeconomic status." 

States with the largest share of the economic burden related to healthcare costs are: 

  • Texas at $41 billion 

  • California at $40 billion 

  • Illinois at $29 billion 

  • Florida at $27 billion

  • Georgia at $21 billion

"The results of this study demonstrate that health inequity represents not just unfair and unequal health outcomes, but it also has a significant financial cost," Thomas LaVeist, PhD, lead author of the study and dean of Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine, said in a statement. "While it surely will cost to address health inequities, there are also substantial costs associated with not addressing them. Health inequities is a social justice issue, but it is also an economic issue."

Funded by the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the study looked at data from four databases between the years 2016 and 2019 to estimate economic burden, racial disparities and education inequities that tie back to health outcomes. Specifically, researchers analyzed medical care costs, lost labor market productivity and premature deaths to determine their overall results.

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