Addressing Chronic Diseases Would Reduce Debt, Generate Savings

September 20, 2011

This week, President Barack Obama shared his plan for reducing the national deficit by $3 trillion over the next decade, including making cuts of $248 billion and $72 billion to Medicare and Medicaid, respectively.  The plan would also generate $320 billion in healthcare savings over the same time period. 

 No matter the strategy, we all can agree that to both improve healthcare quality and achieve meaningful savings, we have to maintain steadfast focus on what’s driving costs – the debilitating incidence of chronic diseases in this country. 

The burden of chronic diseases on the American economy is indeed costly, accounting for 75 cents of every dollar we spend on healthcare in the U.S. each day and more than 90 cents of every dollar taxpayers spend on Medicare and Medicaid.  These chronic diseases – such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease – are largely avoidable and highly manageable with well-designed systems and solutions in place that focus on prevention and care coordination, among other things.  With evidence-based solutions, we have the best chance to both prevent the onset of chronic diseases and the costly complications that result from poor management and improve patient health and safety. 

This week is National Wellness Week and there are a number of events taking place in D.C. that address key topics related to wellness, prevention and tackling chronic diseases, including care for the dual-eligible population, cost containment and utilization and encouraging people to get moving to improve their health. 

  • Today, a panel of leading health care experts and researchers, including the Institute of Medicine president Dr. Harvey V. Fineberg, will reveal details of a transformative new project on health care costs and utilization that will help develop new solutions to long-term problems confronting the U.S. health care system.
  • Also today, Kaiser Permanente is hosting a Walking Summit featuring noted experts in public health, research and walkable communities to help start the national conversation on the health benefits of walking. 
  • Tomorrow, the Senate Finance Committee will host a hearing titled “Dually-Eligible Beneficiaries: Improving Care While Lowering Costs,” at which Melanie Bella, Director of the Medicare-Medicaid Coordination Office for the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, is scheduled to testify. 

The focus of these events could not come at a better time given this week’s release of President Obama’s plan to shore up the healthcare budget and the rapidly rising number of Americans – whether they are Medicare and Medicaid recipients or the general population – facing chronic diseases each day. 

We continue to find ourselves at the juncture of a major healthcare crisis which, though challenging, provides us an historic opportunity to positively impact the short- and long-term health of Americans and our economy. Regardless of political perspectives, only a deficit-reduction effort that lowers soaring healthcare costs by first addressing chronic diseases will ultimately reduce our national debt and generate meaningful savings.