Heart disease = most costly condition for women

by Carolyn Thomas

The cost of treating women for heart disease leads a list of the top 10 most expensive conditions for women, according to the latest News and Numbers from the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.

The analysis by this American agency reveals that the top 10 most costly conditions in terms of health care expenditures for women were:

  • heart disease (over $43.6 billion)
  • cancer
  • mental disorders
  • trauma-related disorders
  • osteoarthritis
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Diabetes
  • back problems
  • hyperlipidemia (high cholesterol levels)

The first few thoughts that hit me while reading this list were: 

1.  We know that up to 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable through lifestyle improvements (like not smoking, managing stress, getting more exercise, losing weight, and eating healthier). This makes the multi-billion dollar price tag to treat this diagnosis seem even more tragic.

2.  Cardiac treatments tend to involve complex surgical and interventional procedures (read: high-paid specialists) plus high-cost cardiac meds and long stays in expensive intensive care beds, and, particularly for women, a higher likelihood of repeat hospital visits and poorer outcomes down the road. Implanting coronary stents, for example, is also big business, with powerful stent manufacturers like Johnson & Johnson and Boston Scientific selling over $3 billion worth of stents last year alone. And as the New York Times reported:

“The specialists who are most likely to diagnose coronary artery disease are in many cases also the doctors who implant the stents.

3.  Similarly, while the agency did not offer a breakdown of each line item, one wonders if the recent U.S. scandals involving stent-happy cardiologists who are  performing medically unnecessary cardiac procedures is helping to inflate that multi-billion dollar price tag. A 2010 report in the medical journal Annals of Internal Medicine, for example,  suggests that fewer than one-third (31%) of those who agreed to undergo elective cardiac catheterization actually had the type of activity-limiting angina pain that balloon angioplasty might even be expected to ease – an appalling stat which may make you wonder why the procedure was done on two-thirds of these people in the first place. See more at: Cardiologists Accused of Implanting Cardiac Stents That Weren’t Needed

The agency also found these facts among the 10 costliest medical conditions for women:

— The second most costly disease to treat was cancer ($37.7 billion), followed by mental disorders ($37.3 billion), and trauma-related disorders ($34.1 billion).

— The lowest expenditures among the top 10 costliest conditions were for hyperlipidemia ($18.0 billion).

— The most common was high blood pressure (29.5 million).

— The least common was cancer (8.4 million).

Source: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ)

See also:  Your Health Care Decisions: Don’t Worry Your Pretty Little Head Over Them

One thought on “Heart disease = most costly condition for women

  1. Interesting that there’s such a difference between heart disease and cancer (which is what most of us would expect to be the #1 issue!) Thanks for this.


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