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US Mental Health Inequities Could Cost $14 Trillion

The School of Global Health at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, with support from Princeton-based Otsuka America Pharmaceutical, Inc., today released The Projected Costs and Economic Impact of Mental Health Inequities in the United States report. Findings show, that if not addressed, mental health inequities combined with expenditures related to chronic conditions, could cost the US economy an estimated $14 trillion between now and 2040.

According to the Meharry analysis, the US currently spends an estimated $477.5 billion annually in avoidable and unnecessary expenses related to mental health inequities, or disparate outcomes in quality and access to care across communities. This excess spending is expected to grow to $1.3 trillion annually by 2040. Lower-income individuals and minority populations bear a disproportionate burden of both mental health and chronic conditions, which are intrinsically connected, exacerbating the economic challenges they face and contributing to continued productivity loss. The report found that mental health conditions greatly impact the trajectory of other chronic diseases in America, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and HIV. By 2040, the effects of care inequities will only increase.

This report builds on landmark findings of The Economic Burden of Mental Health Inequities in the United States report released in 2022, which showed over a four-year period (2016-2020) at minimum, nearly 117,000 lives and approximately $278 billion could have been saved with proper investment in mental healthcare for marginalized and underserved populations. In the latest report, Meharry takes this further to investigate how existing inequities in mental health treatment will overwhelm the American healthcare system if left unaddressed.

“In our first report, tangible evidence demonstrated how decades of systemic health inequities have yielded significantly worse outcomes for minority populations,” said Daniel Dawes, founding dean and senior vice president of the Meharry School of Global Health and author of the Political Determinants of Health. “This latest study shows the critical urgency around the mental health crisis in the U.S. and monetizes the magnitude of neglect. If we don’t act, mental health inequities will cost the U.S. economy trillions over the next two decades.”

The report assessed 10 expenditures across four categories – chronic conditions, premature death, emergency department utilization, and productivity loss – to predict the excess costs arising from mental health inequities. The report analyzed disparities of care for patients across various racial and ethnic backgrounds, socioeconomic status and age, analyzing disparities as they related to each of the four main health categories. Researchers analyzed data from multiple sources, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database and Komodo’s Healthcare Map, that allowed them to develop a new approach to quantify productivity lost because of these mental health inequities. This report should be considered a catalyst for additional research into subpopulations not included in the report, including gender and sexual orientation.

“This sobering research by the School of Global Health Meharry Medical College continues to shine a bright light on the enormous economic and social challenges that the acute mental health crisis in America represents. This is especially true for minority populations that find it harder to access proper healthcare,” said Tarek Rabah, president and CEO, Otsuka North America Pharmaceutical Business. “As a country, we must address head on the mental health inequities that are causing massive human and economic burden. Through our continued support of important research like this latest report, Otsuka is continuing our commitment to working with stakeholders in the mental health community to help rebuild our mental healthcare system with the hope of offering a more integrated, equitable experience for anyone seeking care in the future.”

The findings of this report highlight the need for policy changes in the US healthcare system, including increasing access to mental health care and driving models which seek to recognize and fully integrate physical and mental health conditions. Policymakers may use this research as a roadmap to design new legislation that addresses gaps in care. The Meharry School of Global Health offers the following cross-sector approach for federal and state policymakers who work closely with the private sector and academia:

  • Congress and federal policymakers should continue to strengthen and enforce mental health parity provisions to ensure better coverage for mental health treatments and incentivize regular mental health screenings.
  • Congress, along with state and federal health agencies, should assess how existing reimbursement and coverage policies may create unintended barriers to treatment for those struggling to access the broader healthcare system.
  • Academia should partner with policymakers to collaborate on workforce-focused initiatives designed to build a larger and more diverse workforce for mental health providers across the continuum.
  • Local governments should incentivize mental health providers to join their communities, execute programs to drive awareness and access and other critical resources to the places where they are most needed and least found.

To read the report, please click here.

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