The Most Expensive Medical Diseases and Procedures
Controlling the cost of health care is a global concern. The U.S. spent $4.1 trillion on health care in 2021 — 18% of gross domestic product (GDP). Health care administrators who compare costs to outcomes across nations can identify the most expensive medical diseases to treat and develop intervention programs to encourage behavioral changes in patients.
To learn more, check out the infographic below, created by USC’s Executive Master of Health Administration program.
Global Health Care Costs
Long-term economic development is built on the foundation of accessible health care for workers. Healthy people are more productive, and the health care system can be a major part of a nation’s economy — in the U.S., the health care system employs 11% of all workers.
Health Care Spending
The following 10 countries spend the most on medical care (per capita spending, in thousands of dollars, followed by a percentage of GDP):
- United States: $12.3, 17.8% in 2021
- Germany: $7.4, 12.8% in 2021
- Switzerland: $7.2, 11.8% in 2020
- Norway: $7.1, 10.1% in 2021
- Austria: $6.7, 12.2% in 2021
- Denmark: $6.4, 10.8% in 2021
- Sweden: $6.3, 11.4% in 2021
- Netherlands: $6.2, 11.2% in 2020
- Canada: $5.9, 11.7% in 2021
- Ireland: $5.8, 6.7% in 2021
Health Care Rankings
The U.S. spends the most by far in dollars and as a percentage of GDP, but its citizens are far from the world’s healthiest. The U.S. health care system ranked last overall across more than 70 categories, including access to care, equity and outcomes, in a 2021 report from The Commonwealth Fund.
The Commonwealth Fund’s report ranked the U.S. and 10 other countries with the highest incomes from best to worst to establish an overall ranking of health care system performance. Norway was ranked No. 1, the Netherlands No. 2, Australia No. 3, the U.K. No. 4, Germany No. 5, New Zealand No. 6, Sweden No. 7, France No. 8, Switzerland No. 9, Canada No. 10 and the U.S. No. 11.
Clearly, the U.S. ranks last in performance while spending significantly more than other nations.
5 Most Expensive Diseases
One way the U.S. could spend less while delivering better outcomes is by examining the most expensive disease to treat, and then focusing on improving outcomes by reducing incidents of that disease.
5 Most Expensive Diseases to Treat in the U.S. and the Annual Cost of Treatment
Alzheimer’s disease costs $321 billion and is expected to top $1 trillion by 2050. At least 6.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with it — 73% of whom are 75 or older. The mortality rate is 40.7 per 100,000, making it the fifth-leading cause of disease-related death in the U.S.
Diabetes costs $237 billion, or $1 out of every $4 in U.S. health care costs. At least 28.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with it, plus 8.5 million undiagnosed. The mortality rate is 31.0 per 100,000, making it the sixth-leading cause of disease-related death.
Heart disease and stroke cost $216 billion. At least 121 million Americans have been diagnosed with them. The mortality rate is 260.1 per 100,000. Heart disease is the leading cause of disease-related death, and stroke is the fourth-leading cause.
Cancer costs $200 billion. There are at least 1.8 million new cases per year and 16.9 million survivors in the U.S. The mortality rate is 182.8 per 100,000, making it the second-leading cause of disease-related death.
Obesity costs $173 billion. At least 108.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with it. The mortality rate is 2.4 per 100,000; that may be misleading since obesity is a factor in many diseases, but it’s not usually listed as the cause of death on death certificates.
Most Expensive Medical Procedures
Heart disease and stroke, which have the highest death rate, are also the most expensive to treat and responsible for six of the most expensive medical procedures.
10 Most Expensive Medical Procedures and Common Related Diseases
Exploratory chest surgery (thoracotomy or open-heart surgery) is used to diagnose or treat ailments of the heart, lungs or esophagus. Common related diseases include cardiovascular disease and cancer. The average procedure costs $137,533.
Aortic valve replacement is used to repair a malfunctioning heart valve. The most common related disease is heart disease. The average procedure costs $135,984.
Esophagectomy is used to treat esophageal cancer, which is the most common related disease. The procedure costs $113,756.
Decompressive craniotomy is used to relieve pressure inside the skull due to stroke or traumatic brain injury. The average procedure costs $112,984.
Tracheostomy is used to create an opening in the trachea for oxygen delivery via a breathing tube. The most common related disease is pulmonary disease. The average procedure costs $102,339.
Liver transplant is used to treat long-term chronic liver failure, commonly caused by cancer and cirrhosis. The average procedure costs $101,240.
An aortic graft is used to treat an aneurysm in the aorta and prevent a rupture. Common related diseases include heart disease and hereditary diseases such as Marfan syndrome. The average procedure costs $92,939.
Transcatheter aortic valve replacement is used to replace a heart valve by inserting a collapsible valve into a catheter tube inserted in the groin and guiding it into place in the heart. Heart disease is the most common cause. The average procedure costs $85,279.
Tricuspid valve replacement is used to replace the heart’s tricuspid valve. Heart disease is the most common reason a patient would need the procedure. The average procedure costs $82,631.
Tricuspid valve repair is used to repair a tricuspid valve rather than replace it. Like a valve replacement, heart disease is the most common related disease. The average procedure costs $82,431.
With U.S. health care costs outpacing other high-income nations without added benefits, it makes sense for health care administrators to look closely at controlling costs for the most expensive medical treatments. The first step is understanding the most expensive diseases to treat and developing effective preventive strategies to lower costs and improve patient outcomes.
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John Hopkins Medicine, Reasons for a Tracheostomy
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Mayo Clinic, Aortic Valve Repair and Aortic Valve Replacement
Mayo Clinic, Esophagectomy
Mayo Clinic, Liver Transplant
Mayo Clinic, Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement (TAVR)
Mayo Clinic, Tricuspid Valve Repair and Tricuspid Valve Replacement
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National Library of Medicine, “Surgery on the Aorta”
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, Health Spending
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