Sunday, July 11, 2010

Spending On Disease Does Not have to Keep Rising

You would need to be living under a rock not to know that health (disease) care spending is continuing to increase. The total spending in the OECD is increasing faster than economic growth and inflation in the OECD.

The USA spends the most at around 16% of GDP nearly double the OECD average of 8.3%. This average has gone up from 7.3% in the 1990s . Governments are generally responsible for half or more of this spending. Virtually all the focus at a government level is on how are we going to pay for more disease care in the future.

A different question would be how can we keep healthy so as not to have to spend so much. There are two aspects to this. The first and (dare I say obvious) one is people actually being healthier. With three quarters of spending on “health” being spent on preventable lifestyle related conditions there is plenty of scope . For example 80% of cases of stroke come about in people who are overweight or eat poor diets, smoke or do not exercise. Strokes are extremely costly both in dollar and human terms

There is another aspect as well. One of the big costs in the system is pharmaceuticals particularly those which are “lifelong” treatments. You would think that there would be a interest in making sure that the money was well spent and that there was value, once again, both in dollar and human terms.

Statin drugs, which are used to lower cholesterol, generate billions of dollars in sales on the basis of reducing heart disease. Yet there has never actually been any evidence, which shows that cholesterol in the bloodstream is the problem.

Furthermore there has been a trend to place more and more people on these drugs as a form of “prevention”. Yet a major analysis has shown that for people without heart disease there is no decrease in mortality in those with risk factors who take a statin. Fully three quarters of the people taking these tablets are in this group.

Basically millions of people are taking an expensive drug, which is not actually doing them any good. Questions have also emerged about a study in 2008, which showed benefit from one statin in reducing heart disease given that nine other trials found no such benefit. These focus on the independence of the researchers.

Meanwhile an expensive diabetes drug (Avandia) is under question due to evidence that those taking it had higher rates of heart attacks and strokes than those not taking it. These two conditions are more common in diabetics and one of the aims of managing diabetes is to reduce these conditions. Again you would think that this would raise alarm bells in medical and government circles.

There are more and more examples of this emerging with long term drug use. Medications are trialed over short time periods and then used over long periods. Problems not apparent after two years might become apparent after ten years.

Our reliance on pills is costing us in both dollar and human terms. Every person taking a tablet they do not need is risking side effects for no benefit not to mention enduring cost to their hip pocket. Every time a use for a pharmaceutical is widened to capture more people being in a “risk” group the more this cost increases.

It is time we rejected unnecessary use of pharmaceuticals and were far more questioning of the cost benefit equation in the ones we do use.

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