Chronic disease: Costly, deadly, and preventable – National Consumers League

Written by NCL Intern Sierra Hatfield

This summer, at a panel discussion sponsored by the Partnership to Fight Chronic Disease (PFCD) titled “Turning the Tide in Health Care Starts with Chronic Disease,” the distinguished panelists included Dan Crippen from the MIT Center for Finance and Policy, Douglas Holtz-Eakin from the American Action Forum, and Kenneth Thorpe of the Department of Health Policy & Management at Emory University.

The topic of discussion was the cost of chronic disease to society. Why? Chronic disease is the number one cause of death, disability, and rising health care costs in America. More than 191 million Americans have at least one chronic disease, and 90 cents of every dollar spent on health care goes towards the treatment of someone with a chronic disease. From an economic standpoint, a 90 percent growth in Medicare spending can be attributed to chronic disease alone, with the total cost of chronic disease projected to reach $42 trillion by 2030.

In addition to Medicare, the panelists discussed the costs to the states of mental illness, since an estimated 41 percent of adults have at least one mental health condition, and mental health treatment costs the states an estimated $3.5 trillion. Some states, such as Vermont, have introduced community health teams statewide who help with prevention and care coordination initiatives. According to Thorpe, these teams save the state money in two ways: (1) by integrating existing systems which were previously isolated; and (2) by integrating social services into healthcare as part of a care plan.

From a public health perspective, an estimated 1.1 million American lives could be saved annually through better prevention measures. Unfortunately, younger generations face a higher burden of chronic disease than previous generations, illustrating the need not only for a better healthcare system but also an urgency to understand how better prevention methods can be utilized.

For this reason, PFCD focuses its efforts on prevention and advocates for better access to health care services, early detection, medication adherence, and integrating social services and health care. Thorpe recommended scaling and replicating the European model where more GDP spending is on social programs than on health care, citing the practice as a good example of successful integration of the two. The panelists also advocated for the education and empowerment of local communities to take charge of their health

For our part, the National Consumers League (NCL) works to ensure affordable, quality health care for all Americans. In addition, NCL’s Script Your Future Medication Adherence Campaign provides tools and resources to help consumers with chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and respiratory disease to take their medications as directed in order to protect their health. To “Take the Pledge to Take Your Meds,” please visit