Why Healthcare Costs for COPD Have Been Underestimated
By Dr. Jennifer A. Chambers, MD MBA FACP Chief Medical Officer
I would like to explore a theme that I have consistently encountered since joining the Health Care Originals team: “Why should I, as a health plan, employer, or provider be concerned about COPD as a key cost driver? Our data doesn’t identify COPD among the most costly conditions, so where lies the urgency?”
This theme deserves some thoughtful consideration and analysis, because the numbers don’t add up to COPD being a minor cost driver of healthcare. Astonishingly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) documents a 52% escalation in COPD-related costs between 2010 and 2020. The anticipated global economic burden of this patient group is predicted to skyrocket to $4.8 trillion by 2030. COPD affects over 251 million people globally and is responsible for more than 3 million deaths annually. Big numbers, right?
Having served as a Chief Medical Officer at a health plan and in various leadership roles in healthcare, I witnessed the nuanced financial implications of COPD firsthand. I believe it is because the costs that are related to COPD are attributed to other causes.
So why do I consistently hear that COPD is not a cost issue? Having served as a Chief Medical Officer at a health plan and in various leadership roles in healthcare, I witnessed the nuanced financial implications of COPD firsthand. I believe it is because the costs that are related to COPD are attributed to other causes. Here are my thoughts…
- Under/Misdiagnosis: First, there is the problem of under/misdiagnosis. COPD develops slowly. Due to COPD’s insidious nature, early symptoms, such as persistent coughs or breathlessness, are frequently overlooked or misattributed to other conditions, like allergies. This oversight means many COPD sufferers remain undetected. Such diagnostic discrepancies misdirect health cost data to alternate conditions, thereby concealing COPD’s authentic financial impact.. The health cost data points to other conditions and treatments, ultimately diluting the true costs of COPD.
- Coexisting Conditions: Secondly, many folks with COPD also suffer from other chronic conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. These concurrent conditions obfuscate the economic evaluation of COPD, as costs might be associated with these secondary illnesses, thereby understating COPD’s genuine financial burden. These conditions can complicate the management of COPD, making it difficult to point out costs solely related to COPD. Because of this, costs may be assigned to the other conditions, diluting the true cost of COPD. Early or advanced disease, it is difficult for data to prove the true cost of care for COPD!
The lessons here:
- To engage insurers and employers effectively, we must first underscore COPD’s substantial economic footprint. Yet, prevailing data merely skims the surface.
- It’s evident that proactive COPD management, through timely interventions, self-management, and earlier diagnosis, can significantly mitigate costs—particularly with respect to symptom exacerbation which incurs hefty emergency care expenses.
We can and must do a better job caring for folks living with COPD. It has a terrible impact on quality of life and too many people die from this disease every year. Healthcare providers need better, easier methods to diagnose COPD early; and they also need better methods to identify symptoms of impending exacerbation so that timely interventions are provided. Then, the data capture will point to COPD when appropriate.
As we advance our ability to diagnose COPD earlier and manage exacerbations before they are a crisis, the cost savings will become evident. For now, trust that the data represents only a portion of the cost of COPD and that new and innovative approaches to the care of folks with respiratory illness are crucial to improving their quality of life, and the decreasing the costs of avoidable exacerbations.