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PBA Study Estimates $139 Billion Annual Cost for Eye and Vision Disorders

Legislative Update
June 18, 2013

National Opinion Research Center/University of Chicago Research Scientist John Wittenborn presents the PBA study results at the June 18 Focus on Eye Health National Summit
National Opinion Research Center/University of Chicago Research Scientist John Wittenborn presents the PBA study results at the June 18 Focus on Eye Health National Summit
Today, Prevent Blindness America (PBA) released a new report entitled Cost of Vision Problems: The Economic Burden of Vision Loss and Eye Disorders in the United States which estimates the annual cost at $139 billion—based on 2011 U.S. population data and in 2013 dollars. The report, commissioned by PBA from researchers at the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC), emphasizes that the financial burden will continue to grow due to increasing healthcare costs and an aging population.

The $139 billion total annual cost consists of the following components:

  • $72.2 billion, reflecting the cost of vision problems outside direct healthcare expenses, including lost productivity and long-term care costs.

  • $47.4 billion, reflecting the costs to government and taxpayers, including direct medical costs and long-term care. The authors note that the government pays more for direct medical costs than private insurance, largely due to the Medicare-aged population 65 and older. Among those aged 65 and older, government accounts for nearly half of the total burden due to an increase in medical and long-term care expenditures by government for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries in this age group.

  • $20.8 billion, reflecting the cost to private health care companies.
The $139 billion total reflects direct costs of $68.8 billion (48 percent), which includes medical costs for diagnosed disorders, medical costs attributable to low vision, medical vision aids, vision assistive devices and adaptations, and direct services including special education and assistance programs. Indirect costs constitute 52 percent or $72.2 billion of the total costs and capture the burden of consequences of low vision, including productivity losses, long-term care, informal care, and the costs of transfer and entitlement programs.

The study estimates the costs of treating blindness and low vision in the U.S. at $6,680 per-person, per-year. The Fiscal Year (FY) 2013 National Eye Institute (NEI) budget of $662 million means that the U.S. is only spending $2.12 per-person for research into sight-saving and restoring vision research.

A previous PBA report entitled The Economic Impact of Vision Problems released in 2007 reported the annual costs of adult vision and blindness at $51.4 billion. The 2013 report has addressed several limitations in the previous study, for example:

  • Including costs associated with individuals younger than 40 years old;
  • Including costs associated with all vision disorders, not just age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, cataract, and glaucoma;
  • Using a more robust means of calculating medical costs;
  • Including ancillary medical costs; and
  • Using updated data (2004 and later) versus that from the late 1990s.
NEI data from the early 2000s had estimated the annual cost of blindness and vision impairment at $68 billion.

NAEVR’s James Jorkasky attended the June 17 Congressional Briefing at which NORC Research Scientist John Wittenborn provided top-line results, as well as the June 18 Focus on Eye Health National Summit at which detailed results were presented. Reacting to the study Jorkasky commented, “The data presented today in PBA’s report are dramatic and game-changing, especially due to the robust nature of the analyses. These results will be especially useful in the public policy arena since they quantify what NAEVR has stated qualitatively in testimony before Congress—that the NEI is facing a significant challenge with the aging of the population and the increased risk of eye disease. It is ironic that these significantly greater cost estimates come at a time when the NEI budget has been cut by $40 million from the previous fiscal year due to the sequester.”

The June 30 edition of USA Today had a story about the PBA report.