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Aging Americans Crank Up Nation's Arthritis Financial Burden


SAN FRANCISCO -- The aging population has escalated the national price tag for arthritis and other rheumatic conditions by nearly 25% in seven years, investigators here reported.

SAN FRANCISCO, April 27 -- The aging population has escalated the national price tag for arthritis and other rheumatic conditions by nearly 25% in seven years, investigators here reported.

Citing a decline in hospital costs for the conditions from 1997 through 2003, and stable average costs for medical care, the aging population stood out as the primary cause for the rise in national expenditures, the researchers reported in the May issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism.

Those with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions increased to more than 46 million, some 21% of the population, and treatment costs hit .8 billion, said Edward Yelin, Ph.D., of the University of California San Francisco, and colleagues at the CDC.

Arthritis patients included those with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, while other disorders included lupus, gout, and bursitis.

The data emerged from the Medical Expenditures Panel Study, a national probability sample of households. The researchers tabulated medical care costs for adult respondents, stratified by arthritis status, and used regression techniques to assess the medical care expenditures attributable to arthritis and related rheumatic diseases, plus individual loss of income.

Among other findings:

  • Expenditures for arthritis medications almost doubled. This increase resulted from jumps in both the mean number of prescriptions (from 18.7 to 25.2 per person) and the mean cost of a prescription, which rose to from .
  • Inpatient hospital costs to treat these conditions declined from to per person.
  • As a result, the average total spent on medical care for these conditions remained surprisingly stable: ,762 in 1997 and ,752 in 2003.
  • Nationwide in 2003, raw loss of earnings among employed patients with arthritis or other rheumatic conditions totaled billion, up from billion in 1997.
  • Of that amount, after controlling for demographics and comorbidity, ,590 was attributable to arthritis and other rheumatic conditions (versus ,946 in 1997), for a total of .0 billion (versus .3 billion in 1997).

The investigators said the number of persons with arthritis and other rheumatic conditions is projected to increase steadily to nearly 67 million by 2030, so that the economic impact is likely to continue to grow.

Because the ability to prevent the onset of various types of arthritis is limited, Dr. Yelin's team called for cost-effective efforts to decrease mean medical expenditures and reduce unemployment. To accomplish this requires greater use of underutilized interventions, such as self-management education and programs to increase physical activity, they concluded.

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