Brightline JAMA Study Finds Costs Associated with Pediatric Mental Health Conditions Have Risen 31% 

Updated on March 12, 2024

Researchers from Brightline, a comprehensive pediatric behavioral health solution built for children, teens, their parents, and caregivers, published, along with partners, a study today in JAMA Network Open that found that healthcare spending on a child with a mental health condition was associated with $4,361 higher total medical spending on the child in 2021 – a 31.1% increase from 2017.

It’s estimated that 20 million young people in the U.S. – approximately one in five children – have a mental health condition, with many more at risk for developing a mental health condition, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, only about 20% of these children who need services receive appropriate care from healthcare professionals, a problem exacerbated by increasing costs of care and a historic clinician shortage. 

Not only was pediatric mental health associated with higher total medical spending, but spending was also higher in specific categories, including inpatient stays, outpatient services, drugs, office visits, and emergency department costs, according to study co-author Theoren Loo, a clinical data scientist at Brightline. The research also explores the connection between pediatric mental health conditions and healthcare costs for the family. For households with a pediatric mental health condition, family member spending was $2,337 higher, according to the study. 

Additionally, the study found: 

  • A 21% increase in mental health diagnoses among children from 2017 to 2021.
  • Children with a mental health condition accounted for 47% of total pediatric medical spending.
  • In 2021, healthcare costs for a child with anxiety exceeded average medical spending by $3,256, while costs associated with depression were $5,979 higher.

The study, co-authored by Loo, Brightline Chief Clinical Officer Myra Altman, Ph.D., Brightline advisor Dena Bravata, MD, MS, and Brown University Associate Professor Christopher Whaley, Ph.D., evaluated nationally representative Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS) data from 2017 to 2021. It follows a study by Bravata and Whaley, which explored the increase in the prevalence of mental health conditions among children during this time frame, specifically noting a surge in 2020. 

“Our research team’s findings indicate both the increased prevalence of pediatric mental health conditions, as well as the burden of soaring medical costs associated with traditional care for children with mental health conditions and their families,” said Brightline CEO Naomi Allen. “In healthcare, we know that every dollar spent doesn’t have the same effect on outcomes. For example, to appropriately address this increased prevalence so children and teens can get the care they need, we need an upstream approach, where the dollar has more impact.”

About Brightline

Brightline is the world’s first virtual behavioral health solution built to care for kids, teens, and their families and caregivers with a wide range of common challenges. A pioneer in pediatric mental health support, Brightline offers a family-focused approach that combines evidence-based treatments and innovative care delivery models, secure technology, and personalized referrals for escalated care needs. Trusted coaches, therapists, and prescribers support parents, caregivers, and kids – through every age and stage of life – so families can thrive. Available nationwide, Brightline is backed by leading investors KKR, GV (formerly Google Ventures), Oak HC/FT, and Threshold. Visit: www.hellobrightline.com.

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