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Chronic Diseases – How Expensive Are They?
A very small percentage of our population consumes a very large percentage of our health expenditures. These chronically ill patients account for 83% of the $1.67 trillion spent on health care and cause two-thirds of deaths in the United States.
The main chronic diseases are heart disease, stroke, cancer, diabetes and chronic lower respiratory diseases. These diseases are major causes of death and a major source of illness, hospitalization and health care costs. Not to mention the long-term disability cost associated with it. And without aggressive intervention, these costs are expected to worsen.
As mentioned earlier, total national health care spending reached $1.67 trillion. That’s over $5,500 per person in the United States. And that’s a 7% increase over the previous year.
The health costs of a patient with a chronic disease are on average two and a half times higher than those of a patient without a chronic disease. In other words, the average cost for a patient with a chronic disease is over $13,000.
Not surprisingly, many of these chronically ill people have less insurance necessitating greater expense. They are also filing for bankruptcy more often (51% of those filing for bankruptcy cite medical expenses as the cause). And the number of medical bankruptcies has increased 30 times since 1980.
To make these numbers more devastating, just take into account the aging of the population. In 2011, the first of the baby boomers will turn 65, the added pressure that will put on these numbers cannot be doubted. Also thanks to medical technology, people with chronic diseases are living longer, requiring more services and additional costs.
For a more detailed look at how this relates, let’s take a look at a condition and see its impact. Diabetes is the body’s inability to use glucose. Some diabetes can be controlled with diet and/or oral medications, while another type requires insulin injection and close blood sugar monitoring. Diabetes can be linked to other diseases such as neuropathy, glaucoma and heart disease, to name a few. More than 18 million Americans have diabetes and about a third don’t even know they have the disease.
By 2050, an estimated 29 million people will be diagnosed with diabetes. It is now the sixth leading cause of death, with more than 200,000 deaths each year from diabetes or related complications. The estimated cost in 2002 was $132 billion, including $92 billion for direct medical costs, $40 billion for indirect costs such as lost work days, restricted activities and disability.
Heart disease and stroke rack up similar numbers: 70 million of us, or 1 in 4, live with cardiovascular disease; and heart disease is responsible for one death every 34 seconds. It cost US$394 billion in 2005 in direct and indirect costs.
You can see how quickly these chronic conditions can add up to staggering numbers. You can also see how those few people on the Medicare/Medicaid rolls can account for 83% of healthcare spending.
Many state governments are studying this problem and possible solutions to ward off financial crises. Even the federal government is considering cost reduction measures. Disease management programs are an option. Not only do these programs help prevent patients with chronic illnesses from other illnesses and costly treatments, they also involve patients in managing their own care. This frees up limited health care resources.
Disease management is used by insurance companies and private industries. People identified as diabetics, for example, are contacted and kept informed of the importance of adopting healthy behaviors. Specifically, they are contacted by phone and asked how often they check their blood sugar and what the values are. Those who do not have strict control are advised to consult their doctor.
Another method to limit chronic diseases and their enormous costs is prevention. Several states have instituted these programs. From cancer screening procedures like mammograms or colonoscopies in Michigan to smoking cessation programs like Arizona and California, states are becoming more proactive.
It is vital to our nation that chronic illnesses such as heart disease and stroke are limited. Not only for the direct costs that each of us must pay, but also for the indirect costs to our workforce and our nation. And as the population ages, more and more patients will be diagnosed with chronic diseases, swelling an already strained system. We need to find a solution now before the cost gets out of reach.
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