Rising Medical Costs Could Cripple New England Economy, Report Warns

June 15, 2007

New England’s aging population, an epidemic of preventable illness brought on by the obesity epidemic and the high cost of medical care could combine to cripple the region’s economy, according to a new study.

The report, released by the New England Health Care Institute and the Boston Foundation, says the high cost of living is forcing many ages 34 to 44 to leave the state, aging the work force.

Older workers are more vulnerable to developing chronic illnesses, including obesity, which can lead to increased risk of heart disease, high blood pressure and other diseases.

“Obesity is the elephant in the room,” said Wendy Everett, president of the not-for-profit health care institute. “We are getting fatter and fatter, and that’s one of the root causes of chronic illness.”

The rise of preventable conditions will increase treatments costs, driving up health care premiums and making it more difficult for area companies to compete.

Unless action is taken, businesses and communities will be hit with rising health care costs that make recent annual double-digit increases seem modest, she said.

“The message of the report is, here we are in paradise, with the best teaching hospitals and physicians and the lowest number of uninsured of any state in the country, and a creative and ambitious health reform program, but if we don’t act now our economy is going to be dead in the water,” Everett said.

Dr. JudyAnn Bigby, state secretary of health and human services, said some of the increase in chronic disease might be attributable to a rise in the earlier diagnosis of conditions.

“I don’t see anything in this report that hasn’t been known,” she said. “The report makes very clear that Massachusetts is one of the healthiest states in the nation.”

The report, entitled “The Boston Paradox,” said Boston currently ranks high in measures of public health, but at the same time says that is not a reason for complacency.

“It is now imperative for Greater Boston to become as innovative in public health as we have been in medical technologies,” said Paul S. Grogan, chief executive of the Boston Foundation, in an introduction to the report.

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Information from: The Boston

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