Chronic Disease Prevention is the Key to Lowering U.S. Healthcare Costs

October 17, 2011

Last week, I participated in a policy summit hosted by the National Journal entitled “The Cost Equation: Affordable, Efficient and High Quality Care for Improved Outcomes,” where I gathered with several of respected thought leaders to discuss the ongoing issues our health care system is facing. For the last several decades, health care experts and government officials have struggled to find ways to provide affordable and more efficient health care for the American public without sacrificing quality. The same issues remain today, as health care spending in the United States exceeds $2.5 trillion dollars annually and continues to grow at an unsustainable rate.

Among the numerous solutions examined by the panel, the discussion kept coming back to ways in which we can tackle the increasing rate of chronic disease in our country. Even though most chronic illnesses are preventable when the appropriate measures are taken, 75 percent of health care dollars are spent treating these illnesses annually. Thomas A. Scully, senior counsel for Alston & Bird and former Administrator of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS), was quick to point out that we need Americans to start acting rationally and behaving responsibly when it comes to managing their health. In order to achieve this, we must reform the system to give people the means to achieve a higher standard of healthy living. 

In line with the goals the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) works towards every day, there needs to be a more integrated and coordinated approach when treating a patient. Doctors, specialists, nurses, pharmacists, and insurers all must have better communication with each other if we want to reduce costly medical mistakes and dollars being spent on unnecessary procedures.  This is attainable through better facilities, implementation of more advanced medical technology to better monitor a patient’s health record, and getting citizens more involved in their overall health.  We also need to see more evidence-based programs – like the Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP) – made widely available by the YMCA and UnitedHealth Group to all senior citizens beginning at age 60. Enrollment in these programs can save the Medicare system up to $27 billion over the course of a lifetime.

With so much at stake, chronic disease prevention in its various forms must be addressed if we wish to not only better the lives of the millions of Americans affected every year, but also to tackle the rising costs of health care and our federal deficit.

To view the entire policy summit, visit the National Journal’s website for the video stream: