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Psychiatr Serv. 2015 Apr 1;66(4):389-96. doi: 10.1176/ Epub 2015 Jan 15.

The costs and benefits of reducing racial-ethnic disparities in mental health care.

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Dr. Cook, Mr. Liu, Ms. Lessios, and Mr. Loder are with the Center for Multicultural Mental Health Research, Cambridge Health Alliance, Somerville, Massachusetts (e-mail: ). Dr. Cook is also with the Department of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, Massachusetts. Dr. McGuire is with the Department of Health Care Policy, Harvard Medical School, Boston. This work was presented in part at the following meetings: AcademyHealth, June 24-26, 2012, Orlando, Florida; National Hispanic Science Network, September 26-29, 2012, San Diego; Eleventh Workshop on Costs and Assessment in Psychiatry, International Center of Mental Health Policy and Economics, March 22-24, 2013, Venice, Italy.



Previous studies have found that timely mental health treatment can result in savings in both mental health and general medical care expenditures. This study examined whether reducing racial-ethnic disparities in mental health care offsets costs of care.


Data were from a subsample of 6,206 individuals with probable mental illness from the 2004-2010 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS). First, disparities in mental health treatment were analyzed. Second, two-year panel data were used to determine the offset of year 1 mental health outpatient and pharmacy treatment on year 2 mental and general medical expenditures. Third, savings were estimated by combining results from steps 1 and 2.


Compared with whites, blacks and Latinos with year 1 outpatient mental health care spent less on inpatient and emergency general medical care in year 2. Latinos receiving mental health care in year 1 spent less than others on inpatient general medical care in year 2. Latinos taking psychotropic drugs in year 1 showed reductions in inpatient general medical care. Reducing racial-ethnic disparities in mental health care and in psychotropic drug use led to savings in acute medical care expenditures.


Savings in acute care expenditures resulting from eliminating disparities in racial-ethnic mental health care access were greater than costs in some but not all areas of acute mental health and general medical care. For blacks and Latinos, the potential savings from eliminating disparities in inpatient general medical expenditures are substantial (as much as $1 billion nationwide), suggesting that financial and equity considerations can be aligned when planning disparity reduction programs.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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