Cancer, heart disease, hypertension, mental disorders and pulmonary conditions accounted for 31% of the overall change in healthcare spending from 1987 to 2000, according to researchers at Emory University, Atlanta. For four of 15 conditions in the study, most increased costs resulted from increased treatment of the condition, as opposed to a higher cost per visit or population growth. Therefore, efforts to control healthcare costs perhaps should focus on preventing and treating conditions with the most rapidly rising prevalence, said co-author Kenneth Thorpe, a professor and chairman of the Department of Public Health and Policy Management at Emory's Rollins School of Public Health. Focusing on broader cost control methods or consumer-driven spending controls, through health savings accounts, for example, may be less fruitful, Thorpe said.
Exercise and nutrition are key factors in controlling the prevalence and intensity of certain conditions, such as asthma and diabetes, Thorpe said. In another recent study, Thorpe found that increasing prevalence of obesity accounted for 12% of the growth in healthcare spending from 1987 to 2001. However, additional spending may not be bad if the spending is more efficient. Spending per person for treating heart disease was up as the death rate went down, according to Thorpe's latest study. -- by Paul Barr