The 8 Most Expensive Chronic Diseases In The US

May 15, 2021

The cost of maintaining a chronic disease can be financially debilitating. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of the nation’s annual health care expenses are for both chronic and mental health conditions. Many of these conditions are preventable or treatable to some degree if there is better awareness around the disease. Having the right Medicare coverage in place, can significantly reduce the financial impact when it comes to the eight most expensive chronic diseases in the U.S., which are:

1. Diabetes

Annual cost to healthcare system— $237 billion (American Diabetes Association)

Diabetes racks up expenses because of the constant need for testing equipment and medication. Around 14.3 million people in the U.S. 65 and older have diabetes. This includes those who are diagnosed, and those who are not. About 1.5 million Americans get diagnosed every year.

Thankfully, diabetes is a highly manageable disease if the right adjustments are made to one’s lifestyle. These include:

  • Improved nutrition.
  • Increased physical activity.
  • Weight loss.

Small changes can make a big difference when it comes to diabetes, but it is still important to closely monitor the disease and schedule regular visits with your doctor.

2. Heart disease and stroke

Annual cost to healthcare system — $214 billion (CDC)

A third of all US deaths each year are the result of heart disease, stroke or other cardiovascular diseases. High blood pressure and high cholesterol are major risk factors contributing to these chronic illnesses. You are also at a higher risk if you smoke, have diabetes or are obese. You can reduce your risk by getting these issues under control as well as taking these steps:

  • Reduce your sodium intake to lower high blood pressure. This means looking at the sodium content in the packaged foods you eat as well as pulling back on the salt you add to a meal.
  • Consult your physician about medications to help lower high LDL cholesterol. Only about half who need a prescription for this condition actually have one.
  • Try to stop smoking and stay away from others who still do. Secondhand smoke is just as dangerous.
  • Eat a healthy diet and get plenty of exercise.

3. Cancer

Annual cost to healthcare system — close to $174 billion (CDC)

Consistently this is one of the most fatal diseases in the U.S. Cancer is expensive to treat not only because of the treatments themselves, but the length of time in which you may need the care. Because the disease is usually caused by a variety of factors over time, it is more prevalent in seniors. More than two-thirds of cancer diagnoses are in people 60 years of age or older. This means addressing risk factors, at any age, can help prevent or delay the disease. 

Cancer causes are constantly changing, but here are some steps to minimize the risk:

  • Avoid tobacco.
  • Eat a healthy and varied diet that helps you avoid obesity.
  • Spend time being physically active.
  • Wear sunscreen and protect yourself from UV rays.
  • Get vaccinated, especially for HPV and Hepatitis B.
  • See a physician regularly.

One of the best ways to tackle cancer is to catch it early. Through self-exams and appropriate screenings at your doctor’s, you will be improving your odds of beating a cancer diagnosis.

4. Alzheimer’s Disease

Annual cost to healthcare system — between $159 billion – $215 billion, and continuing to rise (CDC)

It is estimated that about 10 percent of people 65 and over have Alzheimer’s, and that number is continuing to grow. The disease is about more than memory loss. It is the fifth-leading cause of death in seniors. It is hard to practice preventative care with Alzheimer’s since the biggest risk factor for the disease is simply age. Family history may also play a part. Changes may begin to develop in the brain years before any symptoms appear.

Medical professionals are still establishing ways to reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. To date, many believe that the same factors that contribute to heart disease and stroke may also increase the risk for this chronic disease. It is recommended to follow similar preventative strategies in addition to increasing mental and social activities.

5. Obesity

Annual cost to healthcare system — $147 billion (CDC)

This disease is linked to so many other chronic illnesses. It is no surprise that obesity is a very costly medical condition. It is also a disease that is on the rise, but very preventable. Cases increased about 12 percent between 2000 and 2018. 

There is a difference between being overweight and being obese, and it comes down to your body mass index (BMI) rather than your actual weight. Those with a BMI of 30.0 or higher are considered obese. One of the best ways to treat obesity is to work with a medical professional to develop a healthier lifestyle. This includes a combination of diet and exercise. You want to eat more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins. You will want to avoid processed foods and sugar. Walking is a great way to add physical activity to your daily routine but consider some muscle-strengthening exercises as well to manage this disease.

6. Arthritis

Annual cost to healthcare system — $140 billion (CDC)

Almost 50 percent of adults 65 and over have reported a diagnose of arthritis by a licensed doctor. Cases range from minor to severe, but as we age, our risk of a diagnosis increases. Arthritis is a complicated chronic disease. Not only do you have to deal with the disease specifically, but you often have to address the chronic pain that accompanies it. Some even develop a lack of mobility and increase their risk of injury due to falls.

Age, family history, and even gender can contribute to your potential for getting arthritis. There are more than 100 different types of arthritis. While you are not able to dodge every risk factor, practicing certain habits can help reduce your chances which include:

  • Eating fish high in omega-3 fatty acids.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight.
  • Keeping joints and muscles strong through regular exercise.
  • Protecting your joints with the right safety equipment when playing sports and stretching to avoid everyday strains.
  • Getting regular checkups with your doctor.

7. Epilepsy

Annual cost to healthcare system — $8.6 billion (CDC)

This disease is a brain disorder that leads to repeated seizures. Epilepsy is more likely to actually develop in adults. Nearly a third of all adults who have active epilepsy are 55 or older. This occurs because risk factors that may lead to the disease are more common in older adults. They include strokes, head injuries, diseases that affect brain function (like Alzheimer’s), and brain tumors.

One of the best ways to reduce your risk of epilepsy, especially as an older adult, is to take precautions to avoid traumatic brain injuries. Falls are the leading cause for brain injuries, so step carefully. Hold onto railings or ask for assistance if you feel uncertain about where you are walking. Use a walking aid if necessary. Should you experience a head injury, seek medical help as soon as possible. Even if you cannot avoid hitting your head, swift treatment may also decrease your risk for epilepsy.  

8. Tooth Decay

Annual costs vary by treatment and condition. 

While we most often relate tooth decay and cavities to children with inadequate brushing habits, seniors are just as affected as well. Bad eating habits which begun when someone was young, lead to chronic dental issues as we age. Left untreated can lead to problems in our gums, not to mention a variety of other health issues.

Limiting the amount of sugar, you eat as well as seeing a dentist twice a year, are the best ways to reduce your risk of dental issues. Brush and floss regularly too. There is no reason to ignore your teeth simply because you are getting older. In fact, that is the time to give them even more attention to ensure you are not paying for dentures or implants.

How Medicare supports preventative measures

It is not coincidental that many of the most expensive chronic diseases have similar preventative measures. Aside from maintaining a healthy weight and getting your exercise, regular visits to your health professionals can make a big difference. The good news is that Medicare has you covered. The “Welcome to Medicare” physical which takes place when you select your Medicare coverage, gets you started with a baseline to help prevent or treat these diseases. Annual preventative care physicals are available with no deductible and no co-payment.

Make sure you have the right Medicare coverage
Medicare makes it easy to access preventative care, but you need to make sure you have the right plan for all your health needs. Working with an experienced insurance agent that is familiar with Medicare and its available supplements, makes all the difference in the world. At Healthcare Solutions Direct, our customer service approach means that we do not move forward with your insurance plan until you fully understand the coverage. We want you to have the right coverage, so we will take the time to answer your questions. We do not want Medicare to feel overwhelming and confusing. Contact us today to ensure you have the right coverage to get healthy and stay healthy.

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