Chronic Disease Costs ‘Staggering’
Illnesses Cost Economy $1.3 Trillion, Report Shows
Oct. 2, 2007 -- A report released Tuesday concludes that chronic diseases
such as diabetes and heart disease are costing the American economy a whopping
$1.3 trillion per year.
The analysis shows that lost productivity in the form of missed work days
and poor work performance actually cost the economy more money than treating
diseases. It has experts warning that the problem will only get worse as the
American population grows older and fatter.
“The trajectory our nation is on is one that is unsustainable,” says Richard
Carmona, MD, a former U.S. Surgeon General who is now chairman of a coalition
called the Partnership to Fight Chronic Diseases.
The study found that treatment for seven chronic diseases including cancers,
mental illnesses, heart disease, lung conditions, hypertension, stroke, and
diabetes ran to nearly $280 billion in 2003. That was dwarfed by productivity
costs of more than $1 trillion, however.
“We see that these numbers are staggering,” says Ross DeVol, director of the
Center for Health Care Economics at the Milken Institute, which conducted the
study. The institute is run by Michael Milken, the 1980s Wall Street raider
turned health activist.
“Not only do you miss work, but when you’re at work to avoid lost wages,
your productivity goes down,” DeVol says.
Heart disease was the most expensive chronic disease at $65 billion in
treatment costs in 2003, the report concluded. Utah had the lowest overall
rates of the seven chronic diseases, while West Virginia had the highest.
But the numbers are small compared with what could happen if the nation’s
approach to chronic disease doesn’t change, the report warned. Costs in lost
productivity and treatment costs could climb as high as $4.2 trillion by 2023
if current trends are unchecked, researchers said.
That’s because aging baby boomers are set to skew the nation’s elderly
population as they reach retirement. And millions of people who are now obese
or becoming overweight will soon start costing the economy money.
“Much of this cost is avoidable,” researchers for the study write.
Milkin’s group recommends a major overhaul of how the country deals with
chronic diseases, calling on policy makers to “renew our commitment to
achieving a ‘healthy body weight.’” Doctors and other health care providers
should also be paid to manage and prevent chronic illnesses, instead of getting
most of their income from treatments, the report recommends.
Carmona says he’s been traveling in Iowa, New Hampshire, and other early
presidential primary states pressuring candidates to make disease prevention
part of their health care platforms.
“We want to make sure this issue is on their political agendas,” he