The Costs of Ulcerative Colitis

Medically Reviewed by Minesh Khatri, MD on March 25, 2023
4 min read

Your doctor told you that you have ulcerative colitis (UC). You finally know what’s been causing your symptoms. But now you’re probably asking yourself many questions about what’s next, including how much it will cost to manage this chronic condition.

A long-term illness can put on a serious strain on your budget. And the cost of care for an inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) like UC has climbed in recent years. A study from the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation found that, compared to people without IBD, people with the illness pay:

  • Three times more for treatment
  • Two times higher out-of-pocket costs

Most expenses are related to treatment, other illnesses that happen along with an IBD, and emergency room visits.

Research also shows that having IBD puts an extra financial burden on certain groups. Children and older adults pay up to 46% more for care. And although the condition is more common among white people, Black Americans have a rate of IBD-related hospital visits and death that’s out of proportion to their IBD rate.

So how much can you expect to pay for treatment? It can vary based on a lot of factors, but you can get a closer look at some of the costs related to UC.

You’ll have doctor visits -- and sometimes even go to a hospital, in severe cases -- to manage your UC. The amount you’ll pay depends on:

  • Whether you have health insurance
  • How serious your condition is
  • Which service you get (checkups, lab tests, or surgery)
  • Whether you went to the emergency room or your doctor’s office

Without insurance, care in your doctor’s office can range from $130 to $180, while an emergency room visit is $580 to $700. With health insurance, your insurance company pays a portion of your expenses after you pay a deductible and copay. Costs can vary, but here’s what they were for one major health insurer.

  • Blood tests ($15-30). Your doctor may suggest blood tests to check for anemia or infection.
  • Stool study ($565). A stool sample can diagnose UC or rule out other conditions.
  • Colonoscopy ($750-$950). Your doctor can view your entire colon and take a tissue sample to test for UC. You’ll also need regular colon cancer screenings due to a higher chance of the disease.
  • CT scan ($400-$700). If your doctor suspects a problem related to your UC, they may do a CT scan.
  • Surgery ($39,000). If other treatments don’t work, your doctor may consider surgery to remove your entire colon and rectum (proctocolectomy). After surgery, you may need to wear a bag to collect stool, which can add to your long-term medical costs.

When you have IBD, you’re also more likely to have other long-term health conditions that can drive up your medical costs. Trips to the hospital can add to that.

Your doctor may prescribe one or more drugs to control your UC symptoms, including ones to lower inflammation (anti-inflammatory), hold back your immune system, and target proteins that your immune system makes (biologics). You could also need meds to control diarrhea, ease pain, and boost your iron levels if you have anemia.

Depending on the type of drug you take, UC pharmacy costs can range anywhere from $2,500 to $25,000 a year without insurance. You can also buy some medicines in generic form to bring down costs.

Medications that help stop inflammation called TNF inhibitors are the most expensive. Studies show that people who stop taking them lower their overall health care costs but go to the hospital more often for UC symptoms.

When you have UC, you may need to take time off work for doctors’ appointments or heal from a symptom flare-up. Researchers say that people with IBD lose three times more in wages than people without the illness. They also found that:

  • 85% to 98% of people with UC miss work due to their condition.
  • You can expect to miss 11 to 14 days of work a year.
  • The costs related to these absences range from $3,197 to $7,794 a year.

The stress of managing UC, like any other chronic condition, can take a toll on your mind as well as your body. People with UC tend to have more depression and anxiety than people without the disease.

One large study looked at people with IBD enrolled in Medicare. Results show that doctors treated almost 43% for mental health conditions like depression, anxiety, and substance abuse. This group was also more likely to have emergency room visits, hospital stays, higher surgery, and other medical costs.

That doesn’t happen to everyone with UC, and these medical conditions can be treated. It’s important to take care of your mental health as well as your physical health.

It can be challenging to get insurance to cover health care costs, but there are options:

  • Private health insurance (group and individual)
  • Public health insurance (Medicaid and Medicare)

If you’re having trouble paying for your UC care, there’s help from nonprofits and other groups. The Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation has a tool on its website to find programs to help pay for IBD medications, treatment, and services.