Asthma Costs The US More Than $80 Billion Each Year

Of the 25 million Americans diagnosed with asthma, 15.4 million are treated each year. Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock. 

Difficulty breathing, panic, an inability to stop coughing, and trouble walking, talking, and even thinking.

These are symptoms 25 million Americans are all too familiar with. It means an asthma attack is on its way.

A new study now estimates the economic burden of these consuming attacks on the US is more than $81.9 billion dollars each year.

Published in the Annals of the American Thoracic Society, the study surveyed almost 214,000 respondents and found more than 10,000 have at least one prescription for or medical encounter with asthma in a calendar year.  

Analyzing data from 2008-2013 published in the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey – comprehensive data on costs associated with health care – researchers were able to estimate the average yearly numbers and costs associated with asthma in the US.

They found 15.4 million treated American asthmatics spend an average of $3,266 annually on associated costs ($1,830 for prescriptions, $640 for office visits, $529 for hospitalizations, $176 for outpatient visits, and $105 for emergencies).

An average of 3,168 deaths each year costs $29 billion.

And sick days? Those cost about $3 billion. Annually, adults lost around 8.7 million workdays and children 5.2 million school days to asthma.

"The cost of asthma is one of the most important measures of the burden of the disease," said Dr Tursynbek Nurmagambetov, lead study author and health economist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in a statement. "Cost studies can influence health policy decisions and help decision makers understand the scale, seriousness and implications of asthma, so that resources can be identified to improve disease management and reduce the burden of asthma.” 

The researchers found that people without health insurance had lower associated medical expenditures for asthma compared to those who were insured.

Compare those numbers to the estimated $88 billion in cancer-related costs, or the more than $300 billion costs associated with heart disease and stroke.

An asthma attack occurs when mucus builds up in the lungs in response to allergens, exercise, or other irritations. The chronic disease affects quality of life, productivity, and healthcare use, and can ultimately result in death.

And asthma is on the rise, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 2001, 20 million Americans, or 7 percent, were diagnosed with Asthma. Flash forward eight years, and that number increases to 8 percent. Of those, more children (57 percent) than adults (51 percent) have asthma.

Researchers say the study can be used to make informed decisions about how to best use limited public health resources.

"The findings of the paper highlight the critical need to support and further strengthen asthma control strategies,” said Nurmagambetov.

The authors say the study likely underestimates the total cost because it did not account for people who go untreated or non-medical expenses.

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