USA Study shows Vision-related diseases cost $140 billion annually; more costly than cancer and heart disease

A study ( published by Prevent Blindness America and conducted by National Opinion Research Center specialists from the University of Chicago determined that the national annual eye and vision health costs were around $140 billion. That is more costly than at least 3 of the top 7 major chronic illnesses. The list includes Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes and cancer. In 2007, eye care costs were at about $51.4 billion, indicating that the cost has increased by $80 billion in only 5 years.

Study author and research scientist at the University of Chicago’s research center, John Wittenborn, says ”I think a lot of chronic conditions get a little more attention. What people don’t realize is that some of those boring conditions really account for the bulk of medical costs in our country.”

The range of vision disorders people suffer from include slight vision impairments that require glasses or contact lenses to glaucoma, macular degeneration and blindness.

The chief operating officer of Prevent Blindness America, Jeff Todd, said that only a portion of that increase is related to new technology and treatments. The majority of the cost is from the long term care of older patients with diseases such as glaucoma.

He also added, “The longer you live with a vision problem, the more expensive it gets. Eye disorders are ranked fifth for highest cost, yet we’re not getting that attention. No one dies from eye disorders, but they greatly impact quality of life. The federal government foots the bill on a portion of the nation’s burden. They pay about $47.4 billion while insurance companies pay about $20.8 billion in direct medical costs, as well as an additional $1.3 billion for long term care costs. Patients and their families are left paying the remaining $71.6 billion every year. That averages out to about $238 for every person each year".

Todd suggested that the best way to reduce these costs is to focus on preventative care and more research, but obtaining funding for prevention research is the “biggest challenge”.

“What’s lacking is early detection or early diagnosis. Vision problems are detected too late.” Wittenborn said. “Right now we can’t restore vision, we can only retain vision that has not been lost, and preventative care can really save and prevent people from losing a significant amount of vision and money.”

Budget cuts have greatly affected research funding. The Department of Defense’s Vision Trauma Research Program saw an increase in funding. However, the National Eye Instititute had their funding cut by $36 million, which potentially eliminated about 90 grants.

© Dr Rob Hogan 2017