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An Unhealthy America: The Economic Burden of Chronic Disease -- Charting a New Course to Save Lives and Increase Productivity and Economic Growth

Ross DeVol and Armen Bedroussian, with Anita Charuworn, Anusuya Chatterjee, In Kyu Kim, Soojung Kim and Kevin Klowden

Oct 01, 2007

More than half of all Americans suffer from one or more chronic diseases. Despite dramatic improvements in therapies and treatment, the rates of disease have risen dramatically - and that rising rate is a crucial but frequently ignored contributor to rising medical expenditures.

The human and economic toll of chronic disease on patients' families and society is enormous. Yet while a number of studies have sought to estimate the economic costs of illness, there has not been a significant focus on estimating the costs that could be avoided through efforts to reduce the prevalence and burden of chronic disease. The purpose of this study is to quantify the economic and business costs of chronic disease: the potential impact on employers, the government and the nation's economy. It estimates current and future treatment costs and lost productivity for seven of the most common chronic diseases -- cancer (broken into several types), diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart disease, pulmonary conditions and mental disorders. Each has been linked to behavioral and/or environmental risk factors that broad-based prevention programs could address.

Among the findings:

  • More than 109 million Americans report having at least one of the seven diseases, for a total of 162 million cases.
  • The total impact of these diseases on the economy is $1.3 trillion annually.
  • Of this amount, lost productivity totals $1.1 trillion per year, while another $277 billion is spent annually on treatment.
  • On our current path, in 2023 we project a 42 percent increase in cases of the seven chronic diseases.
  • $4.2 trillion in treatment costs and lost economic output.
  • Under a more optimistic scenario, assuming modest improvements in preventing and treating disease, we find that in 2023 we could avoid 40 million cases of chronic disease.
  • We could reduce the economic impact of disease by 27 percent, or $1.1 trillion annually; we could increase the nation's GDP by $905 billion linked to productivity gains; we could also decrease treatment costs by $218 billion per year.
  • Lower obesity rates alone could produce productivity gains of $254 billion and avoid $60 billion in treatment expenditures per year.

The full report includes a State Chronic Disease Index, as well as tables for each state, looking at disease rates, projections of avoidable costs, and intergenerational impacts.

To view complete state-by-state, and disease data, go to www.chronicdiseaseimpact.com

The Executive Summary and Research Findings are also available for download.