THE ROOT CAUSE OF RISING HEALTH CARE COSTS: CHRONIC DISEASE

April 27, 2009

Recently, President Barack Obama has reaffirmed his conviction that we must have quality, affordable health care for every American.  This is an important goal.  But as lawmakers move forward, they must be aware of the facts.  And they must be clear on the precise causes of America's health care woes, says Peter Pitts, president of the Center for Medicine in the Public Interest.

Take the president's claim that the number of uninsured "now totals 45.7 million Americans."  Although the Census Bureau puts the number of uninsured U.S. residents at approximately 46 million, its report clearly states that 10 million of them are noncitizens, and almost 18 million make $50,000 a year or more, yet have chosen not to purchase health insurance.

What's most concerning is that these inflated statistics are distracting us from addressing the root causes of our nation's ballooning health care costs, says Pitts:

  • Of the $2.2 trillion America spends each year on health care, 75 percent of that money goes to fighting chronic diseases, many of which are preventable but require regular treatment; it's for this reason that treating chronic conditions carries such a hefty price tag.
  • And the problem is getting worse; between 1980 and 2006, the incidence of diabetes tripled, triggering a massive increase in health care spending; heart disease and related illnesses will cost Americans over $304 billion this year alone.
  • In 2005, nearly half of all Americans were suffering from at least one chronic disease.

Luckily, huge strides can be made toward this goal by empowering Americans through better health education.  Informing citizens about good diet and exercise habits would go a long way toward curbing the incidence of obesity, a condition that often deteriorates into more costly chronic illnesses, says Pitts.

Source: Peter Pitts, "Opinion: The root cause of rising health care costs: chronic disease," Mercury News, April 20, 2009.

 

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