Rich and Poor

The One Percent of Healthcare

The one percent of healthcare is the group of patients who account for 21% of total healthcare expenditures even though they are only one percent of the patients in the system. The data come from the 2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ). The analysis is from Statistical Brief #421 by Steven Cohen and Namrata Uberoi.

This top one percent had average healthcare expenses of $87,570 in 2010. And the top five percent of patients had average expenses of $40,876 and accounted for half of all U.S. healthcare expenses.

So who are these exceptional patients? Well, they are very different from the one percent that Republicans and Democrats have been fussing about. It should be no surprise that these are people with multiple — and often poorly managed — chronic diseases.

Healthcare spending is more concentrated in the top one or five percent of patients who are Black, Hispanic, uninsured, poor, men, or children. For diverse reasons, people with the greatest burden of illness in each of these groups generate disproportionate healthcare expenses.

Some good news can be found here. Spending on the one percent of healthcare has come down since 1996, when it accounted for 28% of healthcare spending. And we have room for further improvement if we do a better job of preventing and managing chronic diseases, like — ahem — obesity.

Click here to read more in MedPage Today and click here to read Statistical Brief #421 from AHRQ.

Rich and Poor, 17th c anonymous Flemish painting from Museum der Brotkultur, Ulm / Wikimedia

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