The Economic Costs of Pain in the United States

  • Darrell J. Gaskin
    Address reprint requests to Darrell J. Gaskin, PhD, Associate Professor of Health Economics, Deputy Director Center for Health Disparities Solutions, Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, 624 N Broadway, Suite 441, Baltimore, MD 21205.
    Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, and Department of Health Policy and Management, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland
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  • Patrick Richard
    Department of Preventive Medicine and Biometrics, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Bethesda, Maryland
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      In 2008, according to the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), about 100 million adults in the United States were affected by chronic pain, including joint pain or arthritis. Pain is costly to the nation because it requires medical treatment and complicates treatment for other ailments. Also, pain lowers worker productivity. Using the 2008 MEPS, we estimated 1) the portion of total U.S. health care costs attributable to pain; and 2) the annual costs of pain associated with lower worker productivity. We found that the total costs ranged from $560 to $635 billion in 2010 dollars. The additional health care costs due to pain ranged from $261 to $300 billion. This represents an increase in annual per person health care costs ranging from $261 to $300 compared to a base of about $4,250 for persons without pain. The value of lost productivity due to pain ranged from $299 to $335 billion. We found that the annual cost of pain was greater than the annual costs of heart disease ($309 billion), cancer ($243 billion), and diabetes ($188 billion). Our estimates are conservative because they do not include costs associated with pain for nursing home residents, children, military personnel, and persons who are incarcerated.


      This study estimates that the national cost of pain ranges from $560 to $635 billion, larger than the cost of the nation's priority health conditions. Because of its economic toll on society, the nation should invest in research, education, and training to advocate the successful treatment, management, and prevention of pain.

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