Health economists from Johns Hopkins University writing in The Journal of Pain reported the annual cost of chronic pain is as high as $635 billion a year, which is more than the yearly costs for cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
Previous studies have not shown a comprehensive analysis of the impact on health care and labor markets associated with people with chronic pain. The Johns Hopkins researchers estimated the annual economic costs of chronic pain in the U.S. by assessing incremental costs of health care due to pain and the indirect costs of pain from lower productivity. They compared the costs of health care for persons with chronic pain with those who do not report chronic pain.
Data from the 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey was used to gauge the economic burden of pain in the United States. The sample included 20,214 individuals 18 and older to represent 210.7 million U.S. adults.
The authors defined persons with pain as those who have pain that limits their ability to work, are diagnosed with joint pain or arthritis, or have a disability that limits capacity for work. To measure indirect costs, they used a model to predict health care costs if someone has any type of pain and subtracted predicted health care costs of persons who do not have pain. The impact of incremental costs of selected pain conditions were calculated for various payers of health care services.
Results showed that mean health care expenditures for adults were $4,475. Prevalence estimates for pain conditions were 10 percent for moderate pain, 11 percent for severe pain, 33 percent for joint pain, 25 percent for arthritis, and 12 percent for functional disability. Persons with moderate pain had health care expenditures $4,516 higher than someone with no pain, and individuals with severe pain had costs $3,210 higher than those with moderate pain. Similar differences were found for other pain conditions: $4,048 higher for joint pain, $5,838 for arthritis, and $9,680 for functional disabilities.
Also, adults with pain reported missing more days from work than people without pain. Pain negatively impacted three components of productivity: work days missed, number of annual hours worked and hourly wages.
Based on their analysis of the data, the authors determined that that the total cost for pain in the United States ranged from $560 to $635 billion. Total incremental costs of health care due to pain ranged from $261 to $300 billion, and the value of lost productivity ranged from $299 to $334 billion. Compared with other major disease conditions, the per-person cost of pain is lower but the total cost is higher.
The authors noted their conclusions are conservative because the analysis did not consider the costs of pain for institutionalized and non-civilian populations, for persons under 18 and for caregivers.
The Journal of Pain is published by the American Pain Society.
Darrell J. Gaskin, Patrick Richard. The Economic Costs of Pain in the United States. The Journal of Pain, 2012; 13 (8): 715 DOI: 10.1016/j.jpain.2012.03.009