Most Health Care Costs Incurred by Few Americans

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January 11, 2012

Only 10 percent of the U.S. population accounted for nearly two-thirds of all health care costs in 2008, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The average annual cost for each of these individuals totaled almost $24,000, which includes costs covered by insurance and paid out of pocket. Approximately 45 percent of these individuals remained in this 10 percent of the population in 2009, based on their health expenses that year.

The federal agency’s analysis of the 10 percent of patients with the highest health care expenses in both 2008 and 2009 also found that:

· Nearly 60 percent of these patients were women.

· More than 40 percent of patients were age 65 or older, while those age 18 to 29 made up just 3 percent.

· More than 80 percent of patients were white, while Asians were the smallest segment at 2 percent.

The data in this AHRQ News and Numbers summary are taken from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey (MEPS), a detailed source of information on the health services used by Americans, the frequency with which they are used, the cost of those services, and how they are paid.