NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

The Economic Cost Of Chronic And Disabling Conditions

April 18, 2001

Data Profiles published by the National Academy on an Aging Society have explored the prevalence and economic impact of the most common chronic conditions: Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, asthma, depression, diabetes, hearing loss and heart disease.

These conditions have a profound economic impact on individuals, their families, employers and society. For instance, the social cost of Alzheimer's disease in the U.S. is currently over $50 billion a year. Even a one-year delay in the average onset of Alzheimer's and dementia would reduce annual costs by nearly $10 billion a year.

A major component of those costs is lost wages due to partial or complete disability resulting from the condition. For example, of people ages 51 to 61:

  • Some 73 percent of those without heart disease are in the workforce while only 11 percent are completely retired.
  • But of those with coronary heart disease, only 48 percent are in the workforce and 30 percent are completely retired.
  • Having coronary heart disease also increases the probability a person will choose to be a homemaker, rather than being employed outside the home, by 60 percent.

The research highlights the lifelong relationship between poor health and economic status. People with the most common chronic conditions (cancer, stroke, hypertension, heart disease and diabetes) have at least one of five modifiable risk factors -- being overweight, engaging in too little exercise, smoking, high cholesterol and excessive alcohol intake. But 89 percent of the 51-to-61 age group have at least one of these risk factors and 19 percent have three or more.

Thus modifying risk factors may be the most promising way of reducing the incidence of chronic conditions and their economic consequences.

Source: Karen Holden, "Chronic and Disabling Conditions: The Economic Cost to Individuals and Society," Public Policy and Aging Report, Winter 2001, based on Data Profiles published by the National Academy on an Aging Society, Gerontological Society of America.


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