A new survey discovers Americans are less willing to pay to avoid mental illness as compared to medical conditions.
Researchers analyzed responses from a nationally representative sample of 710 adults and found that while respondents viewed mental health as burdensome, in fact often more burdensome than general medical illness, they were less willing to pay for prevention of the condition.
Specifically, survey respondents were willing to pay 40 percent less than what they would pay to avoid medical illnesses, said study leader Dylan M. Smith, Ph.D.
Survey participants were presented with five health conditions. These included three medical illnesses or conditions (diabetes, below-the-knee amputation, and partial blindness), and two mental illnesses (depression and schizophrenia).
Participants rated each health condition for severity and level of burden in relation to quality of life. Then they indicated how much they would pay, out of pocket, to avoid the condition.
“Our results showed that participants understood that mental illness clearly has a very negative impact on quality of life yet were significantly not as willing to pay for effective treatments for these illnesses,” said Smith.
“The findings mirror the general pattern of health care spending, with less resources going to treat mental illnesses than might be expected given the overall level of burden they impose on society.”
Smith cited current World Health Organization statistics that indicate mental illnesses account for 15.4 percent of the total burden caused by all disease in industrialized countries, yet mental illnesses account for only 6.2 percent of U.S. health care expenditures.
“All else equal, the general public doesn’t think it is as valuable to treat mental illness as other types of illness,” said senior author Peter Ubel, M.D., of Duke University. “There is a fundamental disconnect between how bad they think it would be to experience depression and their willingness to spend money to rid themselves of the illness.”
Investigators discovered respondents generally considered the medical illnesses or conditions as less severe in comparison to the mental illnesses. Yet, when respondents were asked to rate the “burdensomeness” of each condition, schizophrenia received the highest mean burden score, but it did not have the highest willingness-to-pay value.
Similarly, despite a relatively high “burdensomeness” rating, depression received the lowest median willingness-to-pay value.
According to the authors, the results suggest that efforts to “eliminate the gap between mental health conditions and general health conditions will likely require targeting specific beliefs that people have about mental illnesses and the value of treatments for mental illness.”
They also point out that “public attitudes influence how much payers for health care are willing to spend to treat mental illness and how likely federal agencies are to invest in research on mental illness.”
In an era of health reform, researchers say additional investigation is needed to “explore the deeper underlying attitudes that reduce people’s willingness to spend money to avoid mental illness.”
The research results are published in the journal Psychiatric Services.
Source: Stony Brook Medicine