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Heart Disease, Respiratory, and Endocrine Conditions See Less Spending Despite More Patients

January 18, 2016

According to a recent article from Modern Healthcare, new data show that “US spending to treat heart disease, respiratory ailments, and endocrine conditions, such as diabetes, slowed in the second half of the last decade, but not because fewer people sought care.”

Recent research in a Health Affairs paper reported that the reduction in care to treat these conditions was a result of cut costs. The presented study is one of the first to examine federal data that break down the country’s $3 trillion health care bill by the cost to treat individual conditions. Legislators and consumers can benefit from this data as they pursue more information about the cost and quality of treating specific diseases.

“From a patient's perspective, you care about the total cost of treatment,” noted Abe Dunn, who coauthored the study with U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis colleagues Lindsey Rittmueller and Bryn Whitmire.

The study, which combined data from national survey results, commercial insurance bills, and Medicare claims, analyzes the cost per case across more than a dozen condition categories from 2000 to 2010, but does not include whether the patient condition was better or worse with treatment. Nevertheless, this data serves as a starting point.

“I expect there is going to be more and more work done comparing these disease-based spending trends with the quality of care and the outcomes we're seeing,” Chapin White, a senior policy researcher with RAND Corp told Modern Healthcare. “There is the potential for this to be very useful.”

Except for a rebound in 2014 from the expansion of health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, US health spending growth has been at historic lows since 2009. The National Bureau of Economic Research stated that the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009.

Researchers also found that health spending slowed before the recession that began in December 2007, and while it contributed to the slowdown, it impacted more after 2010, likely because fewer people sought care.

Dunn and colleagues found that health care spending was faster from 2000 to 2005 because managed care companies lost their grip on costs. High deductible health plans became more common according to the authors, offering patients a reason to seek out less expensive treatment, including generic drugs (more options available for these as well), retail clinics, or alternatives to surgery.

According to the report, “Federal estimates show retail drug spending grew 11.2% annually, on average, between 2000 and 2005. But that dropped to 4.3% average annual growth in the second half of the decade. In 2010, retail drug spending growth was largely flat.”

Between 2005 and 2010, generic drugs decreased the cost per care for circulatory conditions and saved money when treating diabetes and high cholesterol, fewer cardiac inpatient procedures were performed, and imaging for back pain decreased. In contrast, the cost to treat certain conditions, such as breast cancer, sped up.--Amanda Harvey 


Reference: Evans M. Spending on heart disease slows, despite more patients. Modern Healthcare. January 5, 2016. 


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