With the national 2010 healthcare reform law being scrutinized by the U.S. Supreme Court and the country trying to figure out if the spiraling costs for health care can ever be reined in, it turns out there’s one thing we can collectively do to mitigate the problem: lose weight.
Obesity now accounts for almost 21 percent of U.S. healthcare costs — more than twice some previous estimates, according to a Cornell University study.
Average annual medical costs for an obese person are $2,741 higher (in 2005 dollars) than those for a non-obese individual, the study found. That translates into $190.2 billion per year — or 20.6 percent of national health expenditures — the researchers said.
The Cornell study is reported in the January issue of the Journal of Health Economics.
“Historically we’ve been underestimating the benefit of preventing and reducing obesity,” said lead author John Cawley, Cornell professor of policy analysis and management and of economics.
Previous estimates used by the government had pegged the cost of obesity at $85.7 billion, or 9.1 percent of national health expenditures.
However, in 2010, the same Cornell researchers reported that nearly 17 percent of U.S. medical costs could be blamed on obesity, so the new report shows the trend is going up, not down.
Within the insurance industry, health insurers are not alone in their concern over the cost of obesity. Workers’ compensation carriers are affected, as well. The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) has reported that claims involving obesity have higher indemnity and medical costs.
A study published in 2007 by Duke University Medical Center found that obese workers filed 45 percent more claims than non-obese workers, and their medical costs were 5.4 times higher than those for workers in a normal weight range.
As researchers, insurers, healthcare providers, employers, and federal, state and local governments try to figure out the healthcare cost conundrum, it’s tempting to lay at least part of the blame for high medical bills on people who seem to eat more and exercise less.
Obviously, it’s not that simple. But for many folks, eating less and exercising more could lead not only to a healthier lifestyle but to a wealthier one, as well.