Heart Disease Carries Highest Medical Price Tag

MARCH 2003 - Heart disease ranked as the most expensive medical condition during 1997, according to a new study that analyzed health care costs and determined the 15 costliest health problems that year.

The price tag for treating heart disease came to $58 billion, while the next most expensive condition - cancer - cost $46 billion, according to the study by Joel W. Cohen and Nancy A. Krauss at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The next most costly conditions to treat were trauma, costing $44 billion, and mental disorders at nearly $30 billion.

Although lung disorders, including asthma, ranked fifth for expenses in 1997, it was the health problem that affected the largest number of people in the United States that year, with 41 million sufferers spending $29 billion.

More than 17 million people had a heart disease diagnosis in 1997; 9 million had cancer; 44 million suffered from trauma (the second most often reported condition on the list); and 20 million had mental disorders.

After pulmonary disorders, the 10 next most expensive conditions and their price tags, followed by the number of people reporting those conditions, are:

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  • Diabetes, $20 billion, 10 million people
  • Hypertension, $18 billion, 27 million people
  • Cerebrovascular disease, $16 billion, 2 million people
  • Osteoarthritis, $16 billion, 16 million people
  • Pneumonia, $16 billion, 4 million people
  • Back problems, $13 billion, 13 million people
  • Kidney disease, $10 billion, 2 million people
  • Endocrine disorders, $10 billion, 18 million people
  • Skin disorders, $9 billion, 20 million people
  • Infectious diseases, $6 billion, 16 million people

Cohen and Krauss note that, as they expected, many of the health conditions in the 15 most expensive are chronic diseases. "However, several were acute conditions, which one might not have expected to account for such high spending levels," they write. "This suggests that while a focus on chronic conditions is certainly important, it should not be the only focus of efforts at improvement."

Private insurance covered at least 35 percent of the expenses for the top five conditions, including more than 50 percent of the costs associated with cancer. Medicare covered nearly 45 percent of heart disease expenses, between 20 percent and 25 percent of the costs associated with cancer and trauma, 16 percent of the expenses for mental disorders, and 30 percent of the bill for pulmonary conditions.

Out-of-pocket expenses were highest for hypertension at 30 percent (which also had the largest proportion of costs in prescription drug expenses), while the cheapest condition for out-of-pocket payers was pneumonia at 4.1 percent.

Source: Center for the Advancement of Health