Excessive U.S. Lifestyle Behaviors Have Contributed to Increased Health Care Costs, Treasury Secretary Says
Excessive eating, smoking and drinking by U.S. residents is partially responsible for rising health care costs, Treasury Secretary John Snow said Tuesday, Reuters/Washington Times reports. Snow, who spoke at a business meeting at a Pennsylvania hospital, said, "Health care is affecting the way the economy performs," including business competitiveness, job creation and the budget outlook for the future. "Getting a handle on health care costs ... has far-reaching implications for the economy," he added (Reuters/Washington Times, 10/20).
Snow said the United States "need[s] a culture that leans against [excessiveness] because that reduces the chronic diseases that account for so much of health care costs. ... Preventive medicine would do an awful lot here, if people just followed good health practices" (Reuters/Wall Street Journal, 10/20). Snow, who often cites frivolous malpractice lawsuits as the main force behind rising health care costs, also spoke about tort reform and the need to limit litigation against health care providers, Reuters/Washington Times reports.
According to Reuters/Times, Snow maintains that lawsuits have "driven up employers' health insurance premiums" and rising malpractice insurance premiums are leading to a shortage of specialists in some areas of the country (Reuters/Washington Times, 10/20).
In related news, a study published online Wednesday in the journal Health Affairs, says that obesity is responsible for 27% of the growth in health care costs from 1987 to 2001, the Washington Post reports. In the study, Kenneth Thorpe, a professor at Emory University, and colleagues analyzed federal data on medical spending and health status, adjusted for inflation, from 1987 to 2001.
According to the study, treating obese patients cost 37% more than treating normal-weight patients -- or an extra $301 per patient over the study period. The study also found that 41% of increased spending on heart disease is related to obesity. Thorpe said, "The actual numbers are probably higher" because researchers relied on self-reported weight and height.
Kelly Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, said, "These numbers show that the prevailing approach for dealing with obesity, which is to blame people who have the problem and hope the situation will disappear, is a fantasy. Something dramatic needs to be done to change the environment in order to prevent this problem from occurring in the first place."
Thorpe said, "We've got to find ways to get the rates of obesity stabilized or falling. We need to find effective interventions to deal with this on multiple levels -- the schools, at home, in the workplace -- because clearly this is a major driver in terms of growth in health care spending" (Connolly, Washington Post, 10/20). The study is available online.