When you add up all of the medical bills, loss of productivity and death expenses, asthma places more than an $80 billion burden on the US economy. This figure is the result of a study conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the results of which were published in the journal Annals of the American Thoracic Society.
The study was conducted between 2008 and 2013 and looked at data collected as part of the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. This survey includes information on the use of healthcare resources, health insurance coverage, medical costs and the source of medical payments.
“The cost of asthma is one of the most important measures of the burden of the disease,” said Dr. Tursynbek Nurmagambetov, lead study author and health economist at the CDC. “Cost studies can influence health policy decisions and help decision makers understand the scale, seriousness and implications of asthma, so that resources can be identified to improve disease management and reduce the burden of asthma.”
Over 213,000 individuals responded to the survey over the study period, about 10,000 of which were identified as those currently being treated for asthma. This cohort had previously visited their doctor or other healthcare professional for an asthma-related reason and were taking at least one prescription drug to manage their asthma symptoms. Based on this sample, Nurmagambetov and his colleagues made estimates for the economic burden of asthma in the US.
They estimated that within the study period, about 15.4 million people in the US were treated for asthma each year. The total cost of the disease itself totalled $81.9 billion, including medical expenses, missed time from work and school, and mortality.
On average, each patient with asthma spent $3,266 on disease management annually, including $1,830 for prescriptions and $640 for visits to their doctor’s office. Hospital care for asthma-related incidents – including hospitalizations, outpatient visits and ER care – totalled $810.
About 3,168 deaths could be attributed to asthma-related complications each year, totalling $29 billion in mortality costs. Nearly 14 million work and school days were missed as a result of asthma, costing a combined $3 billion each year.
Of concern is that fact that the research team believes they likely underestimated the total economic cost of asthma in the US because patients with untreated asthma were not included in the analysis. Transportation expenses, lost productivity due to long wait times in doctor’s office waiting rooms, sub-optimal performance at work or school due to asthma symptoms and other nonmedical costs were also excluded from the current study.
“The findings of the paper highlight the critical need to support and further strengthen asthma control strategies,” said Nurmagambetov. “CDC’s National Asthma Control Program was founded in 1999 to help reduce the burden of asthma in the United States. “In order to reduce asthma-related ER visits, hospitalizations, absenteeism and mortality, we need to support guidelines-based care, expand self-management education and reduce environmental asthma triggers at homes.”