Managing health care is a tougher job now than it was even 10 years ago. In addition to various health plan choices and a multitude of insurance offers available in the market place, employers and the medical community must also contend with new illnesses and communicable diseases that are getting more and more difficult to control and cure. As our population gets more diversified, Americans now are seeing health issues develop that we are finding more dangerous and more costly to manage. In addition to the SARS scare that came out a few years ago, and the impending pandemic of avian illness, or "bird flu," that is still uncertain as to its ultimate reach and affect, we are seeing increased awareness of new strains of diseases that are causing grave concern in the health care world.
One of these issues is MRSA---Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus. MRSA is a strain of Staphylococcus aureus that has become resistant to the antibiotic methicillin according to a definition by Genelabs Technologies found on Google. First noticed in hospitals as a staff infection, MRSA has "jumped the fence" with appearances now in schools, gyms, fitness facilities, and other locations. Previously known as only contracted by touching an open sore, it is now proved to be communicated by skin to skin contact, and by touching items that the patient has touched, such as towels, sheets, and any other object that the infected individual has handled. MRSA infections typically cause skin lesions (such as boils), but also can cause severe illness. Some have died from community-associated MRSA. Just this month as published online by Medical News Today, MRSA has also shown up in gay communities in Boston and San Francisco with a very high rate of persistency and has found to be highly resistant to antibiotics typically used to treat the illness. Elimination of infections and/or colonization of MRSA in a facility through implementing an infection control, establishing rigid hygiene measures, and/or antibiotics is the current way that the disease is controlled.
Are we looking at the threshold of new strains of disease that will one day wipe us out as a race, or are we seeing old bugs with new life that are a lot tougher to kill? It certainly is more expensive now to deal with illness than the last decade. The cost to bring new drugs to market is outrageous as we see the FDA's requirements get tougher each year. According to their website, "the FDA must keep in touch with consumers and firms dealing with regulated products all over the United States .... Regulating almost 124,000 business establishments that annually produce, warehouse, import and transport $1 trillion worth of consumer goods." In 2003, Bain & Co, reported that the cost to bring a new drug to market was very high: the cost for a single new drug averaged $1.7 billion. And just three years later in 2006, the head of science and technology at Eli Lilly & Co. warned that the cost of producing a successful drug could top $2 billion by 2010. Reported in the online version of Digital Healthcare and Productivity.com, he attributed this to including soaring R&D costs, lowered drug approvals, increased development times, the loss of patent protection on several blockbusters, safety issues, and pricing pressures. In addition to cost, the time required to bring new drugs to market can stretch on for several years, anywhere from 12 to 20 in some cases.
The cost to treat medical conditions is well over $500 billion now, as the most recent figures are for 2005--three years ago--published by AHRQ, a government agency that tracks healthcare related issues. Medical News Today online just reported that the ten most expensive health conditions rank in this order from most to least in dollar values: Heart conditions, trauma disorders, cancer, mental disorders, asthma and COPD, high blood pressure, diabetes, Arthritis and other joint diseases, back problems, and normal childbirth. This money is paid out for medications, home health care, clinics, emergency rooms, hospitals, and physician visits. You can track more of this mind-numbing data at their website.
On top of new diseases, Americans still are dealing with medical issues like diabetes. According to the latest report published online with USA Today, uncontrolled diabetes wreaks havoc on the body; and the illness often leading to kidney failure, blindness and death--the nation's unchecked diabetes epidemic also exacts a significant financial toll: $174 billion a year. There are 1 million new cases a year — as more Americans become overweight or obese, according to the study just released this month by the American Diabetes Association. They also report that diabetes costs the nation nearly as much as cancer, whose costs in 2006 totaled $206.3 billion, although cancer kills twice as many people. Obesity is out of control in the U.S., especially in ethnic communities including Hispanics and African-Americans. Most published studies indicate that we are fatter than ever. Maybe putting the country on a weight loss program with a little bit of fitness thrown in for good measure will help us with the upward spiraling costs of health care--old or new.
Until next time. Let me know what you think.