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Digestive diseases led increase in treatment costs over the last two decades, analysis finds

Blog | Cost of Care

Digestive diseases led increase in treatment costs over the last two decades, analysis finds

Cancer is the lone disease category for which treatment costs decreased during a 23-year period.

A new study quantifies the extent to which treating disease has become increasingly expensive since just before the turn of the century.

The insurance navigator analyzed U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics healthcare data spanning 1999 to 2022. After accounting for inflation, the analysis found the average cost of treating disease increased from $1,159 to $1,712 during the time frame.

Among specific diseases, the leading drivers of cost growth were:

  • Intestinal infections: 427% increase ($134 to $570)
  • Tonsillitis: 419% increase ($392 to $1,644)
  • Diseases of the mouth excluding dental: 416% increase ($76 to $317)
  • Head, neck and trunk wounds: 408% increase ($146 to $595)
  • All other digestive diseases: 385% increase ($1,492 to $5,736)

“Three out of five diseases to see the greatest percent growth are conditions of the digestive system,” the report notes.

A key factor appears to be an increase in inpatient hospitalizations and emergency department visits for those conditions, suggesting severe cases are becoming more common.

Among categories of disease, “symptoms, signs and ill-defined conditions” led the way in cost growth, increasing by 2.4 times during the study period. That was followed by dental diseases (2.2), injury and poisoning (2.18), infectious and parasitic diseases (2.16) and genitourinary diseases (2.15).

Some conditions become less expensive

Some of the most pervasive diseases have declined significantly in cost, potentially owing in part to technological advances that allow treatments to be delivered in less intensive settings. Another factor could be changes in coding practices, which may have led to an increase in milder cases of some diseases.

The biggest drops in cost were seen for:

  • Diabetes with complications: 78% decrease ($1,424 to $314)
  • Heart attack: 61% decrease ($10,250 to $4,047)
  • Arterial blood clot: 48% decrease ($5,735 to $2,995)
  • Anemia: 40% decrease ($1,209 to $725)
  • Acute bronchitis and other types of lung disease: 33% decrease ($1,668 to $1,210)

Advancements in preventive care may have reduced the severity of circulatory and blood-related disorders, analysts noted.

Among disease categories, only cancer dropped in cost — and not by much. The average cost to treat all cancers in 2022 was 10% lower than in 1999. Preventive care and screenings likely are a key aspect of that improvement, analysts said.

About the Author

Nick Hut

is a senior editor with HFMA, Westchester, Ill. (

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