Back pain really hurts the wallet

Back problems from muscle strains to herniated discs are a growing problem in the U.S., afflicting 27 million adults in 2007, or 12 percent of Americans 18 and older, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

Of those reporting back problems, more than 19 million sought treatment resulting in $30.3 billion in health care spending that year.

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More of that spending went for ambulatory care and prescription medications - $18.3 billion and $4.5 billion respectively – with the rest being spend on ER visits, hospital care including surgery, and rehabilitation. That’s an average of $1,589 per patient – $1,146 on average for doctors, chiropractors and other providers and $446 for prescription drugs. And that doesn’t include the spending on over-the-counter treatments.

And of that spending, patients picked up nearly 17 percent, with private insurers covering 45 percent and Medicare (23 percent) and other payers covering the remainder.

Overall spending on back problems nearly doubled in the decade since 1997 when $16 billion was spent treating the condition.

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