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Arthritis Numbers, Costs Soaring
April 27, 2007
America's baby boomers move into late middle age, arthritis and other
rheumatic conditions are taking up an ever larger chunk of health-care
spending, a federal study warns.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention report, which spans the six years from 1997 to 2003,
detected a 25 percent jump in the number of adult Americans with
arthritis and other rheumatic conditions. Overall, more than 46 million
people now suffer from arthritis, compared to 36.8 million in 1997.
That means more than one in every five
adult Americans now has arthritis, the CDC says.
The total annual tab to care for these
patients: almost $81 billion.
The $81 billion figure represents three
percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), "a startling figure,"
said Louise Murphy, an Atlanta epidemiologist who worked with the CDC
on the report.
Something must be done to turn these
figures around, experts say.
"An aging population isn't something that
we can control, but you can try to make the population healthier. We
really have to push public health programs that improve food
consumption and the ability to exercise," said Edward Yelin, professor
of medicine and health at the University of California, San Francisco,
and lead author of the study.
Baby boomers -- Americans born between
1946 and 1964 -- are leading the surge. Of the nine million people
newly diagnosed with arthritis or rheumatoid conditions during the
six-year study, 66 percent of those people were between the ages of 44
Significant, too, according to
researchers, was that most of the increases in arthritis and other
rheumatoid conditions occurred among people who had other health
worries, such as diabetes or heart conditions. In this group, the
prevalence of arthritis increased by 28 percent, from 31.8 million to
40.8 million, compared to a 6 percent increase for those who were
otherwise healthy, 5 million to 5.3 million.
Overweight and obesity are prime culprits,
Yelin said. "Higher levels of body mass index (BMI) are associated with
higher rates of osteoarthritis," he said. "And osteoarthritis in the
joint this year is the joint replacement five to ten years down the
these new patients doesn't come cheap. Attendant costs for treating
people with arthritis rose by 24 percent between 1997 and 2003 -- from
$65 billion to $81 billion, the report found.
Murphy said she and her colleagues were
surprised to find the cost increases mostly attributable to people
rather than procedures.
"We thought that the average costs [of
treating arthritis and other rheumatic conditions] would increase
because of the cost of the costly drugs, and the increased number of
hip and knee surgeries," she said.
But instead they learned that while
per-person spending for prescription drugs did climb sharply, almost
doubling during the six-year period, other costs, including hospital
stays, dropped enough so that actual per-person spending remained
unchanged, Murphy said.
"We found that the driving reason for the
higher spending was the increase in the number of people with
arthritis," she said.
The study also reported that the jump in
the number of arthritis sufferers meant that raw earnings losses due to
arthritis among working adults (ages 18-65) increased by $9 billion
from 1997 to 2003, although on a per-person basis during the same time
period, the amount of lost wages slightly decreased for working adults,
from $4,551 to $3,613.
"Why? I think it has to do with the state
of the labor market at the two points, but this is pure speculation.
The important point is that population growth meant a substantial
national impact, even though on a personal level, on average, there was
a lower figure."" said Yelin.
The report is published in the May issue
of Arthritis & Rheumatism.
Dr. Doyt Conn, professor of medicine and
director of the division of rheumatology at Emory University School of
Medicine in Atlanta, said the study pointed out the health care
consequences of treating the large aging population. He particularly
noted the jump in drug costs facing arthritis sufferers -- $1,635 per
person in 2003 versus $899 in 1997.
"Our nation is going to have to confront
this issue and see if we can do a good job with reducing the cost of
drugs," Yelin said.
Murphy urged those with arthritis to
become proactive in reducing their pain and improving their health.
"There are ways to cope with arthritis
pain through self-management and through weight loss," she said.
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