Numbers of People with Arthritis and Rheumatic Conditions is Rising

Christine Miller Health Guide
  • A new comparative national study finds that the numbers of people with arthritis and rheumatic conditions is on the rise.  It is predicted to reach 67 million people by 2030. This increased prevalence will have a larger economic toll on the nation than increased medical expenditures or individual earnings losses because of the diseases.  However, the researchers emphasize that the country needs cost-effective efforts to decrease individual medical expenses and unemployment and lost-earnings. 
    The study will be published in the May 2007 issue of the Journal, “Arthritis & Rheumatism.”  It compares data from the Medical Expenditures Panel Survey (MEPS) to assess the increment of medical care expenditures attributable to arthritis and rheumatic diseases.  The researchers also calculate the earnings losses for working-age adults with these conditions, comparing data from 1997 through 2003. 
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    Other results included in the journal’s press release are as follows:
    • Between 1997 and 2003, the prevalence of arthritis and other rheumatic conditions increased from 36.8 million adults to 46.1 million adults (21.5 percent of the population).
    • Between 1997 and 2003, expenditures for arthritis medications almost doubled. Both the average number of prescriptions and the average cost of prescriptions increased (from $48 to $65).  However, inpatient hospital expenditures declined from $508 to $352 per person, so the average total spent on medical care for an individual with arthritis remained relatively stable: $1,762 in 1997 and $1,752 in 2003.
    • In 2003, Americans spent a total of $80.8 billion on medical care for arthritis, compared with $64.8 billion in 1997. Researchers attributed this rise wholly to the increase in the number of persons 18 years and older with arthritis.
    • In 2003, employed adults with arthritis earned an average of $3,613 less than healthy working adults between the ages of 18 and 64. Nationwide, raw earnings losses due to arthritis totaled $108 billion, up from $99 billion in 1997.
    In thinking about these numbers and the study conclusions, I have a few thoughts and questions of my own.  First, the data/years studied are already 4-10 years old.  It seems logical to me that with the rapidly growing population in this country would mean that there will always be an increasing prevalence of arthritis and rheumatic diseases, as well as other diseases.  I think this will only change when science is able to find a cure or some way to genetically prevent arthritis.
    Second, the researchers attributed the $16 billon increase in arthritis related medical care costs solely to the increasing numbers of people with arthritis.  There have been several articles in the past year or two stating how increasing numbers of people are taking the newer biologic agents such as Humira, Enbrel, and Orencia and how these very expensive drugs are driving up the amounts of money spent on drugs in this country.  Since these drugs are relatively recent, I wonder if the researchers would draw the same conclusions using data as recent as 2006.  It could be a wash depending on how well the drugs work for people.  If the drugs are successful, then we would expect to see a decrease in money spent on hospital admissions and other medical services and an increase in individual earnings because fewer people would be disabled by the disease.  This would help keep the total of medical expenditures and losses stable, or maybe even decrease them.
Published On: April 26, 2007