Behavioral Health Spending Growing Slowly

Substance abuse, mental health spending has increased more slowly than overall health spending

FRIDAY, Feb. 4 (HealthDay News) -- Though mental health and substance abuse spending has risen since the mid-1980s, it has done so at a rate slower than gross domestic product and not as fast as spending on health care overall, according to a new report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Tami L. Mark, Ph.D., of Thomson Reuters in Washington, D.C., and colleagues compiled data to provide an estimate of treatment spending between 1986 and 2005 for an understanding of past trends and the consideration of what lies ahead.

The researchers found that, although the United States invested a sizable chunk, about $135 billion, on mental health and substance abuse treatment in 2005, mental health and substance abuse expenditures grew less rapidly than other health care spending -- 4.8 percent annually for substance abuse, 6.9 percent annually for mental health, and 7.9 percent annually for all health care services -- possibly due to a sharp decline in mental health medication spending. Spending on mental health and substance abuse treatment also grew at a slower rate than gross domestic product in 2004 and 2005. They also discovered that, in contrast with overall health spending, most behavioral health services are publicly funded.

"The recent recession, the full implementation of federal parity law, and such health reform-related actions as the planned expansion of Medicaid all have the potential to improve access to mental health and substance abuse treatment and to alter spending patterns further. Our spending estimates provide an important context for evaluating the effect of those policies," the authors write.

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