With the rise of obesity and the prevalence of sedentary lifestyles in the U.S., it’s little surprise that back problems are common in this country. And, sure enough, health expenditures for these problems are going through the roof. According to a newly published research analysis, expenditures for neck and back treatments have risen a whopping 65% since 1997! But here’s the kicker: with all the extra money insurance companies and individuals are paying for back related treatments (surgeries, pain meds, etc.) patients are actually getting less relief. The research comes out of the University of Washington at Seattle and is published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Martin and colleagues analyzed data from 1997 to 2005 from a nationally representative survey of patient health expenditures and health status. They found that in 1997 people with spine problems on average spent $4,695 a year, adjusted for inflation, compared with the average $2,731 spent for people without back problems. The average health cost for spine patients in 2005 rose to $6,096, compared with $3,516 for people without those problems. …”What we’re seeing is that although costs have gone up, outcomes have not changed, which is really discouraging,” said Dr. Orly Avitzur, a neurologist from Tarrytown, N.Y., and an advisor to Consumer Reports, which recently named back surgery on its top-10 list of “Medical Gotchas.”
We can’t resist saying that, while a 65% increase in overall expenditures seems more than excessive, the 171% increase in pharmaceutical expenditures for neck and back treatments struck us as outright extreme. (All right, that wasn’t the word, but we’re trying to be polite.) But again, it’s not much of a surprise, is it?
The study found that the annual bill for spinal treatments in this country totals $85.9 billion a year. The cost for cancer treatment: $89 billion.
This is the kind of news we shake our fists at. Of course, there are numerous legitimate, non-lifestyle reasons people require spinal care (car accidents, injuries, pregnancy and childbirth related strains). For those with lifestyle related back issues, spinal treatment can allow them enhanced opportunity to pursue fitness goals, etc. Though we’re not Rodney Yee, we recognize that spinal health is essential for overall wellness. But we would also argue the reverse: overall physical condition is important for spinal health.
When treatments support a person’s ability to lead a healthy life, they can make a truly positive difference. As this analysis shows, our current treatment situation in this country isn’t doing the job. Treatments, pharmaceutical or not, shouldn’t be stand-ins for healthy choices. Ideally, treatment should complement our own efforts and act as a temporary “support” to get us back on track. We don’t gain much from being weakened, or worse yet, infirm. We don’t gain much from being poorer after the bills come due. And we certainly don’t gain anything from, at the end of the day, still being in pain. The question is, then, who does gain?