Chronic diseases are creating a national health care crisis.

Chronic diseases - ongoing, generally incurable illnesses, such as asthma, arthritis, cancer, diabetes and heart disease - are the single greatest threat to our nation's health and to our health care system.

Below are six "unhealthy truths" about chronic disease in the United States:

Truth #1

Chronic diseases are the No. 1 cause of death and disability in the U.S.

Truth #2

Treating patients with chronic diseases accounts for 75 percent of the nation's health care spending.

Truth #3

Two-thirds of the increase in health care spending is due to increased prevalence of treated chronic disease.

Truth #4 The doubling of obesity between 1987 and today accounts for 20 to 30 percent of the rise in health care spending.
Truth #5 The vast majority of cases of chronic disease could be better prevented or managed.
Truth #6 Many Americans are unaware of the extent to which chronic diseases could be better prevented or managed.

(Citations can be found in the "Unhealthy Truths" PowerPoint presentation.)


The Impact of Chronic Disease

Chronic diseases are the most prevalent and costly health care problems in the United States. Nearly half (45 percent) of all Americans suffer from at least one chronic disease. More than two-thirds of all deaths are caused by one or more of five chronic diseases: heart disease, cancer, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and diabetes. Many chronic diseases are lifelong conditions, and their impact lessens the quality of life not only of those suffering from the diseases, but also of their family members, caregivers, and others.

Chronic disease not only affects health and quality of life, but is also a major driver of health care costs and threatens health care affordability. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic disease accounts for about 75 percent of the nation's aggregate health care spending - or about $5,300 per person in the U.S. each year. In taxpayer-funded programs, treatment of chronic disease constitutes an even larger proportion of spending - 96 cents per dollar for Medicare and 83 cents per dollar for Medicaid. Much of the persistent increase in spending over the past two decades is attributable to rising disease prevalence, lower clinical thresholds for treatment, and new medical innovations that have emerged to treat chronic and other diseases.

Unhealthy behavior and increased incidence of chronic disease are also extremely costly in terms of health care coverage affordability. Since 2000, health insurance premiums for employer-sponsored family coverage have increased by 87 percent. Health care costs for people with a chronic condition average $6,032 annually - five times higher than for those without such a condition.

Chronic disease also has broader economic impact. Poor health and chronic disease reduce economic productivity by contributing to increased absenteeism, poor performance, and other losses. A Milken Institute analysis determined that treatment of the seven most common chronic diseases, coupled with productivity losses, cost the U.S. economy more than $1 trillion dollars annually. The same analysis estimates that modest reductions in unhealthy behaviors could prevent or delay 40 million cases of chronic illness per year.