Infectious Disease Spending Ballooned First Year of Pandemic; Other Dollars Dwindled

February 13, 2023 by Claire Cleveland
Infectious Disease Spending Ballooned First Year of Pandemic; Other Dollars Dwindled
A child in a medical mask during the coronavirus pandemic

WASHINGTON — In the first year of the pandemic, more than $222 billion was spent on infectious and parasitic diseases, a growth of $83.3 billion from 2019, according to estimates released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. 

The nearly 60% increase was largely driven by spending on viral infections, immunizations and screenings, including COVID-19 testing and vaccines that came on the market in December 2020. 

By contrast, spending for most other medical conditions decreased, likely due to the mandated closures of non-emergency health care settings and an increase in patients putting off non-emergency care, according to the bureau.  

For instance, spending on musculoskeletal conditions, such as osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis, fell by $26 billion dollars, or 10.4%. 

Spending on life-threatening conditions like heart attacks and cancer also fell. Dollars spent on blood pressure and heart attacks decreased by 9% or about $26 billion, even though the heart attack death rate increased for all age groups during the pandemic, according to new data analysis from the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Cancer spending fell less at $4.3 billion or 2.5%.

Other interesting trends:

  • Mental illness spending increased slightly from $135 billion to $136 billion. 
  • Nursing home spending decreased from $194 billion to $182 billion. 
  • Pregnancy complications pending decreased from $54.5 billion to $50 billion. 

“Spending on bronchitis, headaches and sprains decreased in 2020, while spending on anxiety continued an upward trend that started prior to 2019,” according to a BEA press release

The estimates measure health care spending in the United States by medical condition, of which there are 18 categories, and more than 200 detailed subcategories. 

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