Research shows economic burden of heart failure

May 9, 2013, 11:56 p.m.

A study led by Professor of Medicine Paul Heidenreich ’84 P.D. ’95 M.S. ’98 has found that by 2030, one of every 33 Americans — more than eight million individuals — will have heart failure and the overall cost of treating heart failure patients will have risen from $31 billion in 2012 to $70 billion in 2030.

Heidenreich was asked to chair the study, which was co-authored by 13 other doctors, by the American Heart Association (AHA). The researchers released a statement detailing the study’s findings on the behalf of the organization.

“I was asked to lead this study by the AHA because they knew in general that heart disease is going to increase in the population and they wanted to estimate the impact,” Heidenreich said, noting that the AHA was particularly interested in projecting the growth in heart failure rates within the next 20 years.

According to Heidenreich, heart disease is currently the leading cause of patient hospitalization in the United States. The projected dramatic increase in heart failure patients over the next two decades will cost each American taxpayer an additional $244 per year.

To estimate this cost, Heidenreich and the research team identified the prevalence of heart failure and the initial cost per taxpayer for each additional incidence of heart failure among 32 different demographic groups using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination surveys conducted between 1999 and 2008.

With this data set, the researchers generated a projection for the total prevalence and cost among all demographic groups in 2030 by multiplying the prevalence rates and estimated costs by the projected population for each demographic group. The projected costs were based on historical rates of growth in medical spending and the assumption of constant rates of inflation and technological innovation.

Heidenreich said that the predicted rise in heart failure prevalence and cost can partially be attributed to an increase in the American population’s average age, as older people tend to be at higher risk for heart failure.

The study predicts that total costs for heart failure in the 18-44 age group will increase from $1.51 billion to $2.48 billion, while the costs for the 65-79 age group will increase from $11.50 billion to $29.9 billion.

“I don’t think there is anything we can do about the aging of the population — that’s the thing that’s going to happen no matter what,” Heidenreich said. “What we need to do is, for any person of any given age, try to decrease the risk of developing heart failure through prevention.”

According to Heidenreich, these prevention measures are not unique to efforts to address heart failure.
“In some ways, things that one would do to prevent heart failure are things one would do to prevent heart disease in general — controlling high blood pressure, trying to decrease the risk of heart attack by knowing one’s cholesterol and, if that is normally elevated, trying to improve that with diet or drugs if needed,” he said.

According to Heidenreich, the Stanford Hospital has specialists who work with patients that are already dealing with heart failure. However, the hospital also attempts to prevent future incidents of heart failure by encouraging patients to maintain a healthy diet and an active lifestyle.

Nancy Brown, CEO of the AHA, also stressed prevention as the key to lessening the impact of heart failure prevalence.

“We have the solutions we need to change the course of heart failure in this country, but we must take steps now to reverse the trend,” Brown wrote in a statement to The Daily. “If we treat patients using existing guidelines, improve care transitions, adequately train our healthcare workforce and reduce disparities in the health outcomes of specific populations, we can lessen the burdens of heart failure.”

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