Background: Obesity rates continue to rise among children, but knowledge regarding medical expenditures of Medicaid enrollees with documented obesity is lacking. We aim to describe Medicaid expenditure patterns among children with documented obesity and determine the degree to which specific clinical characteristics and conditions contribute to high expenditures. Methods: We performed a retrospective cross-sectional analysis of children aged 2-17 years with a diagnosis code of obesity continuously enrolled in the 2017 Medicaid MarketScan database. Children were grouped based on annual expenditure percentiles: <80th, 80 to <95th, 95 to <99th, and ≥99th. Inpatient, outpatient, and pharmacy expenditures were analyzed. Covariates included demographics, common obesity comorbid conditions (e.g., hypertension), complex chronic conditions (CCCs), and mental health conditions (MHCs). Logistic regression assessed demographic and clinical characteristics associated with high-spending groups (≥95th%). Results: We identified 300,286 children with a diagnosis of obesity. The 1% of children with the highest spending accounted for 25.4% of annual expenditures among children with documented obesity. Annual expenditures in the highest spending groups were driven primarily by inpatient and outpatient mental health services. Characteristics associated with high-spending groups included the following: age 12-17 years, obesity comorbid conditions, and having ≥1 CCC or MHC. These associations increased with increasing number of CCCs or MHCs. Conclusions: Inpatient and outpatient mental health expenditures made up a large proportion of spending among Medicaid-enrolled children with documented obesity. Important drivers of cost in this population were medical complexity and comorbid MHCs. Future research is needed to determine if some of these costs are avoidable in children with obesity.
Keywords: childhood obesity; health care expenditures; mental health.