At present, an estimated 100 million people in the United States suffer from a neurological problem; the most common ones include Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, and multiple sclerosis, although there are over 1,000 neurological problems in total. The total cost of treating these conditions is approximately $789 billion per annum. Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia make up 7.5 million cases but cost $243 billion a year to treat.
In other words, dementia conditions account for 7.5% of neurological diseases but over 30% of the cost of treatment according to an Annals of Neurology study. Remarkably, the total annual cost is around $100 billion greater than America’s military budget.
A Growing Financial Burden
Unfortunately, the situation is set to deteriorate as the majority of neurological disorders impact older people. Although the Census Bureau says America’s 65+ population will increase at a slower rate than in other countries by the end of the 21st century, it will almost double between now and 2050. There are an estimated 48 million people in the United States aged 65, but it will rise to 88 million by 2050. As at 2015, almost 15% of the nation’s population was 65+.
As people are more susceptible to neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s, the number of cases and their accompanying cost looks certain to skyrocket within the next quarter century. Alzheimer’s is by far the most expensive neurological condition to treat. Over five million Americans suffer from it, and the cost of treating it now exceeds $250 billion a year. The cost will rise to $600 billion in 2030 and $1.1 trillion by 2050.
A large proportion of these costs relate to lost labor and productivity, but the cost of care is also extremely expensive. It costs an average of $341,000 to care for someone with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in the last five years of his or her life. This figure is almost 60% more than the cost of care over the same period for those without the condition.
Could the Health System Crack Under the Strain?
Only 27% of people with a form of dementia have both Medicare and Medicaid coverage. According to a 2017 report by the Alzheimer’s Association, the average Medicaid payment for someone with dementia who also has Medicare is 23 times greater than for non-dementia sufferers with both forms of coverage.
The combination of Medicare and Medicaid covers two-thirds of the cost of Alzheimer’s treatment. In effect, this figure equates to 20% of the total expenditure of both programs combined. Within the next decade, the figure may rise to 33%. Harvard professor of Neurology, Rudy Tanzi, believes the escalating cost of treating Alzheimer’s, in particular, will cause the health system to collapse, and suggested that this event is just 10 years away.
The Alzheimer’s Association report also reveals the hidden cost of giving care to dementia patients. For example, in 2016, people who took care of their loved ones dedicated a total of 18.2 billion hours of unpaid assistance, which is worth $230 billion to the American economy. As well as costing money directly via treatments and nursing home payments, dementia prevents the relatives of the sufferer from earning a living.
There is also a possibility that the AHCA will become law in its current form. If this happens, the planned cuts to Medicare will repeal the ACA’s taxes on high-income households. The upshot is that Medicare would ultimately suffer reduced funding. Experts suggest the implementation of such a plan would bankrupt the program in as little as seven years.
The Industry Needs Increased Funding for Neurological Research
In what is a cruelly ironic twist, the increased level of investment in cancer and cardiovascular research from 40 years ago has helped increase our average life expectancy. The knock-on effect is a larger population of elderly citizens prone to suffering neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s.
According to Clifton L. Gooch, formerly of the American Neurological Association (ANA), neurological research needs a similar shot in the arm. While the Government has committed over $5 billion to cancer research and $3 billion to HIV/AIDS research, Alzheimer’s funding is just $600 million. For a medical condition that costs so many lives and places a massive burden on the economy, this figure is a paltry sum.
Most health experts now refer to neurological conditions, particularly Alzheimer’s, as a public health crisis. Not only is the level of funding inadequate, but there is also still a stigma surrounding dementia conditions that has made it impossible to penetrate. Until the public’s attitude toward neurological conditions changes, it will continue to cause havoc in society. As always, leadership on the issue starts at the top.