Chronic Disease is America’s Biggest Healthcare Problem
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When it comes to America’s healthcare problems, popular debate rarely addresses the one issue that is consuming 86 percent of our total healthcare costs: avoidable chronic disease. The most common health conditions in the U.S. are also the most preventable, yet they are costing us dearly. Morbid obesity rates are rising rapidly with one in three Americans characterized as obese, and more than 15 million said to have extreme obesity – conditions that are certain to lead to a range of chronic health issues, such as heart disease, diabetes or stroke.

The number of preventable deaths in this country are down from 2010, when chronic illness cost the nation a total of $315 billion. Since then, thanks in part from greater public awareness, three of the five leading causes of death have seen significant decline. Still, more work needs to be done. Nearly half of adults living in the U.S. already have at least one of these health conditions, and 31 million Americans over the age of 50 at great risk of contracting chronic illness because they are reportedly not active beyond basic movements of daily life.


These trends are already causing systemic cost issues on an individual and national level. While more people are eligible today for health insurance than ever before, millions find they need to supplement that insurance through discount programs or charity assistance. High premiums, copays and unexpected out-of-pocket costs associated with chronic disease currently make it so that nearly 30 percent of insured individuals cannot afford their treatments.

When it comes to managing chronic disease, active engagement can mean the difference between a healthy, prolonged life and frequent and expensive trips to the emergency room. We can all become our own worst enemy when it comes to living and eating healthy. Junk food and television are more appealing than exercise. But once you contract a chronic disease, the challenges can be demanding and difficult to control. Staying on top of medicinal needs and treatments requires a high-level of responsibility. Complications can quickly pile up if a patient falls off course. Physical strains, not to mention emotional and financial stress, make it so that anyone can slip into a downward healthcare spiral.  

That is why healthcare experts encourage taking an active and informed role in managing one’s health. Online workshops developed by Stanford University that are being adopted across the nation offer online chronic disease self-management programs that are proven to lead to significant improvements in health statuses. Diabetic patients who participated in a Stanford initiative had lower blood sugar levels and took their medication more regularly. Experts now increasingly advocate staged interventions to make sure patients with chronic disease keep adherent to treatment plans, a practice that leads to improved health outcomes and lower medical spending according to a new study from the CVS Health Research Institute.

As the healthcare market changes, Patient Assistance Programs, drug coupons and financial discounts will continue to serve as a backstop for underinsured patients who find that access to care is ultimately unaffordable. But when it comes to preventable disease, each individual should be responsible for themselves. Our healthcare system will not solve our problems if we continue to allow the most avoidable chronic conditions to surge unchecked.

Clorinda Walley is the Executive Director of Good Days, a national, independent 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable organization, and one of the nation's largest providers of financial help to seriously ill Americans who cannot afford their medication.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.