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Mental healthcare leads sector in spending, tops $201 billion a year, study says

Overall healthcare spending has grown by 5.9 percent since 1996, while the gross domestic product, has grown at just 4.3 percent, the study found.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

A new study from the Center for Sustainable Health Spending claims that mental healthcare eats up significantly more healthcare spending than any other industry sector, to the tune of $201 billion annually.

When factoring in institutionalized patients, mental health eclipses heart conditions, pulmonary diseases and cancer in terms of costliness, according to the study published in Health Affairs.

"The inclusion of institutionalized populations has a significant impact on total spending and brings mental disorders to the top of the list of medical conditions with the highest estimated spending," wrote author Charles Roehring, MD.

[Also: Healthcare providers keep close tabs on labor costs to keep spending in check]

Not all studies agree with this finding. Some rank mental health third on the list, but Roehring said those findings typically don't factor in institutionalization, which he warns can be inaccurate due to an aging population that more and more often requires those types of services.

Overall healthcare spending has grown by 5.9 percent since 1996, while the gross domestic product, has grown at just 4.3 percent, the study found; the theory is that some of this is tied to changes in healthcare delivery, as well as expensive new treatments -- not necessarily the amount of care delivered.

While spending on mental health led all other types, its growth was pegged at 5.6 percent, translating to $38 billion in excess spending -- lower than other categories of health issues. That's because new treatments for other health conditions are often much more expensive than previous standards, said Roerhing.

[Also: Children's healthcare spending rises despite drop in doctor's visits, prescriptions, report finds]

The report projected that mental health should continue to grow and outpace other areas of healthcare.

Rounding out the top five most expensive health conditions are heart disease at $147 billion, trauma at $143 billion, cancer at $122 billion and pulmonary conditions at $95 billion.

Twitter: @JELagasse