The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease


Ross DeVol briefed the audience the key findings from his report on chronic disease.

Panelists on the first session focused on what businesses can do to improve their workers' health. From left: Ken Shachmut, Michael Milken, Dr. Lance Lang and Jackie Trask.

Panelists on the second session looked at government's role in helping reduce chronic disease in America. From left: Dean Rosen, Margaret Anderson, Sophia Change and Gray Davis.

Michael Milken told the audience that "good health is an investment in economic growth."

The Milken Institute hosted a forum with health-care, business and public-policy leaders to talk about the Institute's groundbreaking report,An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease.

The day included a briefing on the study by lead author Ross DeVol, director of the Milken Institute's Center for Health Economics, a keynote talk by Institute Chairman Michael Milken and two panel discussions focused on what business and government can do to lessen the burden of chronic disease.

DeVol and Milken both acknowledged the tremendous human costs of chronic disease, but pointed out that this study's focus is on the often-overlooked costs to business and the U.S. economy.

"The rising rates of chronic disease are largely ignored, but are a very large contributor to the rising growth of health-care costs in this country," said DeVol. "Lost productivity vastly exceeds the direct treatment costs. And because employers still cover the majority of health-care costs in this country, it is a hidden burden on them as well as the employees and their families."

Milken said most of these costs are avoidable since they are lifestyle-related, and that we need to "contain the containable" by lowering our weight, eating better, getting exercise and not smoking.

"It's our position that we could substantially provide high-quality care for all Americans if we were not burdened by the costs of an unhealthy America and the cost of chronic disease," Milken said. "Good health is an investment in economic growth."

The first panel of the day, "The Carrot or the Stick: How Can Businesses Encourage Their Employees to Lead Healthier Lives?" focused on what businesses can do to encourage healthier living by their employees. Moderated by Milken, the panel consisted of Lance Lang, M.D., Vice President and Senior Medical Director of Quality Improvement and Medical Informatics, at Health Net of California; Ken Shachmut, Senior Vice President of Safeway; and Jackie Trask, Vice President, Human Resources Worldwide, at Jafra Cosmetics International, Inc.

Shachmut told the audience that his company focuses heavily on the health of its employees because it's not only important to its workers, but it will bring down skyrocketing health-care costs.

"If we can identify those areas that can be controlled and prevented, give people personal financial incentives to make choices that lead them in that direction, we believe we can cut an enormous amount out of our current health-care bill," he said.

The second panel, "If a Healthy America Is So Important to Our Future, What Should Policy Leaders Be Doing to Lead the Way?" looked at government's role in reducing chronic disease. Moderated by Margaret Anderson, Chief Operating Officer of FasterCures / The Center for Accelerating Medical Solutions, the panel consisted of Sophia Chang, Director, Better Chronic Disease Care program, at the California Healthcare Foundation; former California Gov. Gray Davis; and Dean Rosen, Partner at Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti and the former chief health-care advisor to Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist.

All agreed that many obstacles prevent government from moving more quickly in this area, but that progress is being made as policy leaders realize the importance of prevention as a tool to fight rising health-care costs.

"We don't spend a lot of time or energy focusing on nutrition," said Davis. "We need to reorder our priorities, spend money on prevention, have an education program reinforcing individuals making good choices and you'll find a lot less money having to be spent on the back end."

The forum was one of two held on the study. The other was hosted by the New England Healthcare Institute in Boston on Oct. 17, 2007.

Read more about An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease.

View Ross DeVol's slide presentation.

View Michael Milken's slide presentation.