Falls and other conditions that affect older adults fuel high healthcare costs, according to a new study from the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. 

Researchers examined comprehensive healthcare spending estimates over 20 years. Fully $3.1 trillion – or $9,655 per person – was spent on healthcare by a combination of public, private and out-of-pocket insurance during 2016. In comparison, that amount totaled $1.4 trillion, or $5,259 per person in 1996, reported lead author Joseph Dieleman, Ph.D.

Among conditions included in the study, low back and neck pain generated the highest expenditures in 2016, at $134.5 billion. When combined with other musculoskeletal conditions such as arthritis, costs exceeded $380 billion. Meanwhile, other health conditions with substantial spending in 2016 were diabetes, at $111 billion; ischemic heart disease, at $89.3 billion; and falls at $87 billion. 

In addition, dementia spending increased substantially, from $38.6 billion in 1996 to $79.2 billion in 2016.

The majority of those expenditures were paid for by a combination of private and public insurance. In 2016, the majority of public insurance spending was earmarked for patients aged 65 or older. Spending by public insurance during the study period increased faster than private insurance, “although this is driven at least partially by expansions of Medicaid,” concluded Dieleman.

US Health Care Spending by Payer and Health Condition, 1996-2016 was published in JAMA Network Open.