Osteoarthritis is a relatively little-known condition, but its cost is far from minor. A recent study shows that health insurance plans are paying out nearly $150 billion per year to treat it, on average. It is a small but significant driver of health care costs, because health insurance companies pass the increased medical expenses onto patients via premiums. Costs associated with the disease include–but are not limited to–physicians, hospitals, drugs, diagnostic tests, and outpatient services.
What is osteoarthritis? As its name suggests, it consists of attributes associated with both arthritis and osteoperosis. The chronic condition results in a gradual loss of cartilage in the body. Areas commonly affected include the knees, spine, hips, feet, and hands. Left untreated, osteoarthritis leads to discomfort and even disability. It is diagnosed most often, though not exclusively, in older patients over the age of 55.
Women are more susceptible to osteoarthritis; the bulk of osteoarthritis-related expenses ($118 billion) are caused by female patients. The reason is unknown, but its prevelance is partly to blame for women having to pay more for health insurance plans. Female osteoarhtritis patients cost health insurance companies almost $700 extra–$4,833–than males with the same condition. There are also copayments to deal with. While men only pay $694 in out-of-pocket osteoarthritis treatment costs, women must pay $1,379 annually.
These figures are scary to anyone thinking about soaring health care expenses, and even more so to those considering healthcare reform. 27 million Americans currently suffer from osteoarthritis, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predict that 67 million (one-quarter of the U.S. population) will be diagnosed with it or a similar condition by 2030. That will potentially lead to trillions of dollars spent on one condition alone! Osteoarthritis is also associated with obesity; the rise in the latter among Americans has increased the prevalence of other chronic diseases, as well as the price of health insurance plans.
How can we avoid this fate and lower the cost of health insurance plans? Better screening techniques and higher awareness of osteoarthritis could result in the condition being caught earlier, when it is easier–and cheaper–to manage. Since osteoarthritis is chronic, it increases the amount of health care services you need throughout your lifetime. Stopping progression of the disease, which often results in disability, can lessen its effects. Disability is especially expensive to manage. Above all, the promotion of lifestyle changes like regular exercise will help prevent osteoarthritis and the accompanying rise in medical costs.