More Americans are burdened by chronic illnesses such as diabetes and high blood
pressure, often having more than three at a time, and this has helped fuel a big
rise in out-of-pocket medical expenses. With prescription drugs playing a key role,
average annual out-of-pocket medical costs — those not covered by health
insurance — rose from $427 per American in 1996 to $741 in 2005, researchers
wrote in the journal Health Affairs.
The findings were based on nationally representative surveys of about 32,000
people in 2005 and 22,000 people in 1996. Adjusting for inflation, that translated
to 39 percent more in out-of-pocket spending per person over that time,
according to Kathryn Paez of Maryland-based health research organization Social
& Scientific Systems Inc. and colleagues. The figures were much higher among the
elderly. For example, a person insured through the Medicare program for those 65
and older who had three or more chronic conditions paid an average of $2,588 of
out-of-pocket medical expenses.
Based on government survey data, 44 percent of Americans in 2005 had at least
one chronic medical condition, which could include diabetes, high blood pressure,
high cholesterol levels, cancer, arthritis, heart failure and others. That compares
to 41 percent in 1996. The study did not look directly at the causes of the
increases, but there appear to be several factors. The rise in Americans with
multiple chronic illnesses comes as obesity and sedentary lifestyles have grown
more common. Obesity contributes to many chronic ailments including diabetes.
U.S. health officials say the rate of new cases of diabetes soared by about 90
percent in the past decade. The percentage of Americans with three or more
chronic illnesses rose even more sharply. It jumped from 13 percent in 1996 to 22
percent in 2005 for ages 45 to 64, to 45 percent for ages 65 to 79, and rose from
38 percent to 54 percent for those 80 and older. Among all ages, it went from 7
percent in 1996 to 13 percent in 2005. Chronic disease accounts for three-
fourths of the more than $2 trillion spent on health care yearly in the United
States. The chronic disease increase was seen not just among the very oldest
age groups but also in middle age and early old age — regardless of sex, race,
ethnicity and income level.
(Source: Reuters; Tuesday, January 06, 2009)
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