Vision-related diseases are costing insurance companies, the U.S. government and patients approximately $139 billion each year, according to researchers from the University of Chicago, the authors of a new report – “Cost of Vision Problems: The Economic Burden of Vision Loss and Eye Disorders in the United States” – which was commissioned by Prevent Blindness America (PBA).

The authors added that because healthcare costs are still rising and Americans will continue enjoying longer lifespans, the financial burden is set to grow even more. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University reported in June 2012 that the incidence of vision impairment problems and blindness increased 23% since 2000.

Vision-related diseases place a greater economic burden on the American economy than three of the top seven major chronic diseases, including cancer, heart disease and diabetes.

These new estimates are considerably greater than previous ones, and were based on the 2011 US population calculated in the dollar value in 2013.

Below is a breakdown of the economic burden for vision loss and eye disorders per year in the USA:

  • Government – $47.4 billion
  • Private insurance – $20.8 billion ($1.3 billion in long-term care and $20.8 billion in direct medical costs)
  • Patients and their families – $71.6 billion

Disorders of the eye and vision loss are usually long-term (chronic) conditions, i.e. they will affect the patient for the rest of his/her life. There will be on-going medical expenses for treatment, as well as economic and social costs.

The authors wrote “In an environment where the current and future cost and coverage of diseases and healthcare are at the forefront of public concern, establishing a comprehensive understanding of the cost of eye related conditions is of paramount importance.”

Direct and Indirect Cost of Vision Problems by Age Group ($ billions)

  • Age 0-17
    Direct Costs – $5.09bn. Indirect Costs – $0.65bn. Total – $5.74bn
  • Age 18-39
    Direct Costs – $9.09bn. Indirect Costs – $13.08bn. Total – $22.17bn
  • Age 40-64
    Direct Costs – $22.25bn. Indirect Costs – $11.55bn. Total – $33.8bn
  • Age 65+
    Direct Costs – $30.33bn. Indirect Costs – $46.94bn. Total – $77.72bn
  • All Ages
    Direct Costs – $66.75bn. Indirect Costs – $72.22bn. Total – $138.97bn

Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America, said:

“We feel that we now have a true estimate of the current and growing costs of eye disease in this country. Armed with that information, we can address the need for increased prevention, research and healthcare options. It is important that people understand that eye disease is among the most expensive conditions in our country, with over half the cost currently being assumed by aging patients and their families.”

The authors explained that their findings underscore the fact that chronic illnesses and conditions are the main drivers for healthcare costs in the USA. They also pointed out that the government pays for most of the healthcare costs and the majority of long-term care costs.

Vision loss can have a debilitating effect on the patient’s ability to work and carry out everyday duties, which results in productivity losses and long-term care that exceed the direct costs for vision and eye problems. Eye disorders and loss of vision incur burdens on the American economy “even beyond the healthcare sector”.

The Cost of Vision Problems from Prevent Blindness America on Vimeo.

DALYs Blindness
Disability adjusted life year losses (Source: Prevent Blindness America)

The authors estimated that vision loss causes the loss of 283,000 DALYs (disability adjusted life years). For any disease or condition, DALYs refers to the sum of the Years of Life Lost (YLL) due to premature mortality in the population plus the Years Lost due to Disability (YLD) for incident cases of the illness/condition.

In this calculation, the authors did not monetize the value of this disability in the total estimate. If they had included a monetary value, it would have come to $50,000 per adjusted life year, which would have increased the burden estimate by $14 billion.

Written by Christian Nordqvist