Rethinking Healthcare

Cancer and heart disease costs to skyrocket hundreds of billions of dollars

Cancer and heart disease costs to skyrocket hundreds of billions of dollars

Posting in Cancer

By 2020, cancer costs will hit at least $158 billion, according to the National Cancer Institute. And by 2030, heart disease expenses will triple to $818 billion, says the American Heart Association.

Two decades from now, the costs of treating heart disease will triple by 2030, hitting $818 billion, predicts an American Heart Association (AHA) study.

That’s over a half-trillion-dollar increase from the $273 billion now.

“Despite the successes in reducing and treating heart disease over the last half century, even if we just maintain our current rates, we will have an enormous financial burden on top of the disease itself,” says Paul Heidenreich, chair of the AHA panel.

Here are some other figures from the report:

  • Currently, 1 in 3 Americans (36.9%) have some form of heart disease, including high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke. By 2030, approximately 116 million people (40.5%) will have some form of cardiovascular disease.
  • The largest increases are anticipated in stroke (up 24.9%) and heart failure (up 25%).
  • Heart disease will also cost the nation billions more in lost productivity, from $172 billion in 2010 to $276 billion in 2030.

“Unhealthy behaviors and unhealthy environments have contributed to a tidal wave of risk factors among many Americans,” says AHA’s Nancy Brown. “Early intervention and evidence-based public policies are absolute musts to significantly reduce alarming rates of obesity, hypertension, tobacco use and cholesterol levels.”

Most heart disease is preventable with better diet and more exercise, according to the AHA, and one easy fix would be for Americans to eat less salt.

The study calls upon policymakers to shift focus to prevention: "The US healthcare system often rewards practices that treat disease and injury rather than those that prevent them.”

The results appear in Circulation this week.

In the nearer future, ten years from now, medical expenses for cancer will soar to at least $158 billion, according to projections from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) last week.

That’s a 27% increase from current costs of $124.6 billion.

What’s more, if new tools for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up continue to be more expensive, the costs could get as high as $207 billion – illustrating the importance of advancing the science of cancer prevention and treatment, says Robert Croyle of the NCI.

Here’re more key numbers:

  • The highest costs were with breast cancer ($16.5 billion), colorectal cancer ($14 billion), lymphoma ($12 billion), lung cancer ($12 billion) and prostate cancer ($12 billion).
  • There were 13.8 million cancer survivors alive in 2010, and 58% of them were 65 or older. If cancer rates remain stable, the number of survivors in 2020 will increase to about 18.1 million.
  • For all types of cancer, costs of care per patient were highest in the final year of life.
  • Because of the aging of the US population, the largest increase in survivors over the next decade are expected to age 65 and older.

"We thought that, given the aging of the US population, we should try to provide some numbers for policymakers and health planners so they could prepare for the future," says study author Angela Mariotto of the NCI.

One way to reign in the costs, according to Jay Wolfson, professor of public health and medicine at the University of South Florida, is to change consumer expectations of care and the deployment tactics for providers to reduce unnecessary, inappropriate or wasteful service. "This is easy to say from a distance, but when a family is notified that a member has a cancer, their first goal is to get the best and most care possible – and our system tends to oblige."

The analysis appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute last week.

Image: 1955 open-heart surgery by R. Perry / National Library of Medicine

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Janet Fang

Contributing Editor

Janet Fang has written for Nature, Discover and the Point Reyes Light. She is currently a lab technician at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. She holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Columbia University. She is based in New York. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure