Putting the Spotlight Back on Chronic Disease

This week, Rep. Paul Ryan introduced his 2012 budget proposal, which addresses healthcare spending by changing the way the government pays for the Medicare and Medicaid programs. The proposal has triggered - and will continue to do so - a lot of discussions both on and off Capitol Hill about putting us and these programs on a financially sustainable path. What we cannot lose sight of, however, is no matter how we pay for healthcare, we won’t make a dent in healthcare costs until we get serious about addressing the key driver of healthcare spending: costly but largely preventable chronic diseases.

The seven most common chronic diseases alone have an annual economic impact on the U.S. of more than $1 trillion a year, which – without change -- could balloon to nearly $6 trillion by 2050. To break it down even further, largely preventable and highly manageable chronic diseases account for 75 cents of every dollar we spend on healthcare in the U.S., every day, every year. Even more daunting, chronic disease costs consume more than 90 cents of every dollar spent on Medicare and Medicaid. In contrast, we spend less than 5 cents on prevention. These numbers in mind, without taking the appropriate measures to set-up and support long-term prevention and disease management solutions, chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease will continue to be a primary cost drivers in today’s healthcare system – no matter who pays what or how.

Despite these staggering statistics and the agreement by both Republicans and Democrats that investments in improved health leads to decreased costs, we often see the issue of chronic disease prevention and management taking a backseat in discussions surrounding larger health care reform. Yes, Congress should absolutely be working to reduce healthcare costs, but lowering long-term spending largely depends on addressing what fundamentally drives these costs -- chronic disease. Only by expanding the use of evidence based programs that avert disease and keep chronically ill patients healthier can we realize the pound of cure we need.