Study: U.S. spending on COPD to increase big-time

Sunday, June 18, 2006

NEW YORK - Over the next 20 years, medical costs related to COPD will total about $833 billion in the United States, according to a study released last month.

The study, which used a mathematical model to estimate future costs related to COPD, found that the disease will cost about $177 billion in the United States over the next five years, and about $390 billion over the next 10 years. The study is part of the Burden of Obstructive Lung Disease (BOLD) initiative, which is designed to examine the prevalence and burden of COPD around the world.

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in America, claiming the lives of 120,000 Americans in 2002. An estimated 10.7 million U.S. adults have COPD, but there may be many more undiagnosed cases. Smoking is the primary risk factor for COPD--approximately 80% to 90% of COPD deaths are caused by smoking. In spite of declining tobacco use in the United States, prevalence of COPD is expected to increase because of the lag time between tobacco exposure and disease development.

"As the prevalence of COPD continues to grow, the costs associated with the disease will continue to rise and are projected to consume a significant portion of the healthcare budget over the next 20 years," says lead researcher Todd Lee, PharmD, PhD, the Research Assistant Professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and Hines VA Hospital.

To figure out future COPD health costs, the researchers started with the $31.4 billion in medical expenses attributed to COPD in 2003. They then divided the adult population into groups, based on whether they were current, former or non-smokers, and whether they had mild, moderate or severe COPD. They attached a dollar amount to the healthcare needs of each group. They then projected how many people would move from one group to another each year over 20 years, based on their age, gender and smoking history--such as how many smokers would develop mild COPD and how many people with moderate COPD would develop a more severe form of the disease--and calculated the new costs for each year. They totaled the amounts for 20 years to come up with the $833 billion figure.

"One of the reasons we developed this model was to raise awareness about the cost of COPD in the future, and make healthcare decision-makers realize the impact that COPD has," said Lee. "It's a real eye-opener, and hopefully it will lead to more discussions about what we should be doing now that will have an impact 20 years down the road, such as a greater emphasis on smoking prevention and cessation."

The researchers next plan to use the model to estimate the impact of smoking cessation and COPD medical therapies on future COPD costs, Dr. Lee said.