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VOLUME 50 | NUMBER 3 | JUNE 2015

Chronic Pain and Health Care Spending: An Analysis of Longitudinal Data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey

Keywords: Pain; chronic pain; medical expenditures; health care costs; health services

Objective: To estimate average incremental health care expenditures associated with chronic pain by health care service category, expanding on prior research that focused on specific pain conditions instead of general pain, excluded low levels of pain, or did not incorporate pain duration.

Data Source: Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data (2008–2011; N = 26,671).

Study Design: Differences in annual expenditures for adults at different levels of pain that interferes with normal work, as measured by the SF-12, were estimated using recycled predictions from two-part logit-generalized linear regression models.

Principal Findings: “A little bit” of chronic pain-related interference was associated with a $2,498 increase in total adjusted expenditures over no pain interference (p < .0001) and a $1,008 increase over nonchronic pain interference (p = .0001). Moderate and severe chronic pain-related interference was associated with a $3,707 and $5,804 increase in expenditures over no pain interference and a $2,218 and $4,315 increase over nonchronic interference, respectively (p < .0001). Expenditure increases were most pronounced for inpatient and hospital outpatient expenditures compared to other types of health care expenditures.

Conclusions: Chronic pain limitations are associated with higher health care expenditures. Results underscore the substantial cost of pain to the health care system.

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