The price of vision

Chicago?The aggregate cost related to adult vision conditions in the United States has climbed to an estimated $51.4 billion, according to a pioneering report from Prevent Blindness America (PBA).

The phase III report, titled "The Economic Impact of Vision Problems: The Toll of Major Adult Eye Disorders, Visual Impairment, and Blindness on the U.S. Economy," quantifies the costs of various vision conditions to patients and caregivers, as well as the burden on the national economy.

The vision conditions cited in the report, supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), include age-related macular degeneration, cataract, diabetic retinopathy, primary open-angle glaucoma, refractive error, visual impairment, and blindness.

"We currently have 3.6 million Americans who are already visually impaired or blind," Dr. Saaddine added. "With the aging of society, as well as increases in diseases such as diabetes-which will increase the incidence of diabetic retinopathy-this vision problem will increase in the future, as will the cost."

"This report analyzes the economic impact of eye conditions. It illustrates what these costs mean to individuals, their families and our society," said Sarah Hecker, director, media relations, PBA. "The goal of this report, combined with other PBA studies, which focus on the sheer numbers of those affected, is to educate the public on how vision loss can affect them personally and on a national level. We also hope to educate our nation's leaders on the need for prevention programs and to encourage their support of sight-saving services and initiatives."

Team leadership

The project is the culmination of efforts on behalf of two groups of health economists. One team, spearheaded by David Rein, PhD, RTI International, Research Triangle Park, NC, and the CDC, researched costs to the U.S. economy, estimating impact at $35.4 billion. A second team, led by Kevin Frick, PhD, associate professor, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore, estimated the financial impact to patients, caregivers, and others at $16 billion, bringing the total to $51.4 billion. U.S. economic impact was calculated by analyzing direct medical costs as well as other direct costs (e.g., nursing home care, government programs). Costs to patients included medical care expenses, informal care, and health utility loss (i.e., evaluation of quality of life in chronic medical conditions).

"The two complementary components gave us an estimate for the whole report-direct medical costs, loss of productivity, formal care loss, and health utility loss," Dr. Saaddine said.

Dr. Frick added, "The main impact of this report is that people seem to spend more for medical care. These people are blind or visually impaired but still living in the community. We dug a little deeper within our data, asking, 'What do they appear to be spending money on?' The biggest fraction of additional expenses in the data was from home care-type services. Here are people who are living in the community successfully enough to participate in a survey. They're either living with family or living alone. In either case, they most certainly have some type of home care, which keeps them in the community."