Untreated sleep apnea has economic impact

Friday, October 21, 2016

The economic burden of undiagnosed obstructive sleep apnea is nearly $150 billion dollars, according to a new study from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. Those costs include $86.9 billion in lost productivity, $26.2 billion in motor vehicle accidents and $6.5 billion in workplace accidents. Dr. Nathaniel Watson, immediate past president of AASM and a professor of neurology and sleep medicine at the University of Washington, spoke with HME News recently about these “eye-popping” numbers and why there is no downside to addressing the sleep apnea problem.

HME News: This new analysis takes a look at the economic impact of undiagnosed sleep apnea. Why take that view?

Dr. Nathaniel Watson: We live in a time where payers, employers and healthcare entities are looking for cost efficiency. We wanted to demonstrate that taking a proactive, aggressive approach to the diagnosis and management of sleep apnea is a cost-saving measure that can reduce healthcare utilization. There are a couple of numbers that are eye-popping here.

HME: I thought payers were on to the fact that paying for sleep therapy was cost effective?

Watson: Unfortunately, the private payers take a very short-term view of health care and are not necessarily looking at the long-term benefits of prevention. That makes health care more costly then it needs to be. So, for instance, for this analysis, reducing comorbidities was a big cost savings.

HME: Yet CMS has drastically cut reimbursement for sleep therapy.

Watson: I would think of all the healthcare payer entities out there that Medicare would be one that would see the potential to take advantage of the long-term view. There’s an opportunity here for Medicare should they choose to embrace it.