Context: Back and neck problems are among the symptoms most commonly encountered in clinical practice. However, few studies have examined national trends in expenditures for back and neck problems or related these trends to health status measures.
Objectives: To estimate inpatient, outpatient, emergency department, and pharmacy expenditures related to back and neck problems in the United States from 1997 through 2005 and to examine associated trends in health status.
Design and setting: Age- and sex-adjusted analysis of the nationally representative Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) from 1997 to 2005 using complex survey regression methods. The MEPS is a household survey of medical expenditures weighted to represent national estimates. Respondents were US adults (> 17 years) who self-reported back and neck problems (referred to as "spine problems" based on MEPS descriptions and International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification definitions).
Main outcome measures: Spine-related expenditures for health services (inflation-adjusted); annual surveys of self-reported health status.
Results: National estimates were based on annual samples of survey respondents with and without self-reported spine problems from 1997 through 2005. A total of 23 045 respondents were sampled in 1997, including 3139 who reported spine problems. In 2005, the sample included 22 258 respondents, including 3187 who reported spine problems. In 1997, the mean age- and sex-adjusted medical costs for respondents with spine problems was $4695 (95% confidence interval [CI], $4181-$5209), compared with $2731 (95% CI, $2557-$2904) among those without spine problems (inflation-adjusted to 2005 dollars). In 2005, the mean age- and sex- adjusted medical expenditure among respondents with spine problems was $6096 (95% CI, $5670-$6522), compared with $3516 (95% CI, $3266-$3765) among those without spine problems. Total estimated expenditures among respondents with spine problems increased 65% (adjusted for inflation) from 1997 to 2005, more rapidly than overall health expenditures. The estimated proportion of persons with back or neck problems who self-reported physical functioning limitations increased from 20.7% (95% CI, 19.9%-21.4%) to 24.7% (95% CI, 23.7%-25.6%) from 1997 to 2005. Age- and sex-adjusted self-reported measures of mental health, physical functioning, work or school limitations, and social limitations among adults with spine problems were worse in 2005 than in 1997.
Conclusions: In this survey population, self-reported back and neck problems accounted for a large proportion of health care expenditures. These spine-related expenditures have increased substantially from 1997 to 2005, without evidence of corresponding improvement in self-assessed health status.