How do individuals with behavioral health conditions contribute to physical and total healthcare spending?

Executive Summary 

Milliman was commissioned on behalf of The Path Forward for Mental Health and Substance Use1 by the Mental  Health Treatment and Research Institute LLC to examine in detail the characteristics of total healthcare costs for all  patients, and separately for high-cost patients, with a focus on the role played by behavioral health conditions— mental health conditions and substance use disorders—and treatment. Our analysis of 2017 healthcare claims data  for 21 million commercially insured lives focused on the prevalence of behavioral health conditions and the levels of  spending associated with both medical/surgical (physical) treatment and behavioral health treatment (i.e., total  healthcare costs) for these individuals. The Path Forward is a private sector initiative to drive market-based  improvements in access and care for all Americans with behavioral healthcare needs. In order to achieve this goal,  those who pay healthcare expenses (e.g., employers, unions, private health insurers, Medicaid, Medicare) and  providers may benefit from understanding the key elements of total healthcare costs. 

In this study, we focused on individuals with diagnoses for behavioral health conditions and/or receipt of behavioral specific treatment, including services or prescriptions for behavioral drugs (hereinafter referred to as the “BH Group”).  See the Methodology section of this report for further details. 


1. Within our study population of 21 million insured lives, the most expensive 10% of individuals accounted for 70%  of total healthcare costs. In this report, these 2.1 million individuals are referred to as the “High-cost Group.”

  • The annual total healthcare costs for individuals in the High-cost Group averaged $41,631—which is 21  

times higher than the $1,965 for individuals in the remaining 90% of the population, or the “Non-high-cost Group.” 

2. Of the 2.1 million individuals in the High-cost Group, 57% (1.2 million individuals) were in the BH Group (referred  to as the “High-cost Behavioral Subgroup”). 

  • The High-cost Behavioral Subgroup constituted 5.7% of the total population of 21 million insured lives, yet  accounted for 44% of total healthcare costs. 
  • Annual total healthcare costs for individuals in the High-cost Behavioral Subgroup averaged $45,782.
  • Half of these individuals (50%) had less than $95 per year of total spending for behavioral health treatment  (i.e., inpatient and outpatient hospital or facility services, and/or professional services coded as behavioral  health services, and prescription behavioral health drugs). 

3. Of the total population of 21 million insured lives, 27% (5.7 million) were in the BH Group.

  • The BH Group accounted for 56.5% of total healthcare costs for the entire study population. 
  • Average annual costs for the BH Group for medical/surgical (physical) treatment were 2.8 to 6.2 times higher (depending on the BH condition) than such costs for individuals with no behavioral health condition.
  • Half of these 5.7 million individuals (50%) had less than $68 of annual costs in 2017 for behavioral health  treatment; the next 25% ranged from $68 to $502 of annual spending. 
  • Of total healthcare costs for the entire study population, 4.4% were for behavioral health treatment.


Our analysis found that a small minority of high-cost individuals drive a significant majority of total healthcare costs.  The majority of those high-cost individuals were in the BH Group. In most cases, costs for behavioral health-specific  treatment represented a small fraction of total healthcare costs for these individuals, and many had no or minimal  spending on behavioral health-specific services. 

Appropriate consideration and management of behavioral health conditions that are so prevalent among the  population are important in a comprehensive strategy to manage total healthcare costs and contribute to positive  outcomes for patients. The evidence base is growing for the favorable impact of effective behavioral health  interventions on health outcomes and total costs for patients and payers. In particular, effective approaches for the  integration of behavioral and physical healthcare, including “Collaborative Care” (a particular model of integration with  specific reimbursement codes), have been well studied and found to have significant potential for total cost savings. See the Implications section of this report for further details. 

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