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Brightline JAMA Study Finds Costs Associated with Pediatric Mental Health Conditions Have Risen 45.2%

Brightline Study Finds Pediatric Mental Health Costs Have Risen 45.2%
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Brightline team

Mar 11, 2024

Research finds increased medical spending for children and families with a child with a mental health condition

Researchers from Brightline, a comprehensive pediatric behavioral health solution built for children, teens, their parents, and caregivers, published, along with partners, a study today in JAMA Network Open that found that healthcare spending on a child with a mental health condition was associated with $4,361 higher total medical spending on the child in 2021 – a 45.2% increase from 2017.

It's estimated that 20 million young people in the U.S. – approximately one in five children – have a mental health condition, with many more at risk for developing a mental health condition, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, only about 20% of these children who need services receive appropriate care from healthcare professionals, a problem exacerbated by increasing costs of care and a historic clinician shortage.

Not only was pediatric mental health associated with higher total medical spending, but spending was also higher in specific categories, including inpatient stays, outpatient services, drugs, office visits, and emergency department costs, according to study co-author Theoren Loo, a clinical data scientist at Brightline. The research also explores the connection between pediatric mental health conditions and healthcare costs for the family. For households with a pediatric mental health condition, family member spending was $2,337 higher, according to the study.

Additionally, the study found:

  • A 21% increase in mental health diagnoses among children from 2017 to 2021.

  • Children with a mental health condition accounted for 47% of total pediatric medical spending.

  • In 2021, healthcare costs for a child with anxiety exceeded average medical spending by $3,256, while costs associated with depression were $5,979 higher.

The study, co-authored by Loo, Brightline Chief Clinical Officer Myra Altman, Ph.D., Brightline advisor Dena Bravata, MD, MS, and Brown University Associate Professor Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., evaluated nationally representative Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data from 2017 to 2021. It follows a study by Bravata and Whaley, which explored the increase in the prevalence of mental health conditions among children during this time frame, specifically noting a surge in 2020.

"Our research team's findings indicate both the increased prevalence of pediatric mental health conditions, as well as the burden of soaring medical costs associated with traditional care for children with mental health conditions and their families," said Brightline CEO Naomi Allen. "In healthcare, we know that every dollar spent doesn't have the same effect on outcomes. For example, to appropriately address this increased prevalence so children and teens can get the care they need, we need an upstream approach, where the dollar has more impact."