Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center
The Cost of Disease

The Cost of Disease

ceo_minute The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) analyzed health spending and price increase data from the period of 2000 to 2010 and sorted their findings by common diseases and diagnoses, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and even the common cold. Their conclusions were reported in the Wall Street Journal on March 3rd and are interesting. Since cardiovascular disease has been the leading cause of death in the United States for a number of years, it is not surprising that Americans spent the most ($234 billion) on circulatory diseases. This includes spending for problems such as hypertension and atherosclerosis. Of course, we know that much could be done in the area of prevention here, such as improving dietary habits and exercising regularly. Smoking cessation is helpful, too.

Other findings are a bit surprising. For example, the fact that spending for general preventive care and general medical care for common problems, such as the common cold or flu, is at $207 billion. This brings into question that practice of “first-dollar” type coverage by health insurance. Again, this is a bit of a conundrum because we want to spend money to prevent problems when there is a clear “cause and effect benefit.” Texas Tech Physicians, like most providers of care, constantly stresses the importance of preventing the spread of the common cold and flu virus through proper hand-washing and other techniques.

Rounding out the top three was back pain, arthritis and other musculoskeletal problems category, which came in at $170 billion. A prominent disease category, cancer, represented only 6.7 percent of spending, or $116 billion. I would have thought it would be more. Mental health conditions, including dementia and depression, accounted for 4.6 percent of spending, or $79 billion. However, I expect that given the changing demographics of our country, this category has probably increased since 2010.

BEA’s study is important because it potentially shows us how to “apply the medicine to where the hurt is,” meaning these areas identified are where we need to be spending our dollars on both research and prevention. We hear a lot about “precision medicine” these days, which, as I understand the term, is taking into account individual variability in genes, environment and lifestyle when trying to prevent, diagnose and treat disease. Breaking down spending by disease helps us set priorities on where to focus our precision medicine strategies and investments.