June 19, 2014
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Economist estimates cost of eye health at $373 billion in 2050

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The total cost of vision health, which includes government costs, insurance costs and patient costs, is projected at $373.2 billion in 2050 compared with $145.2 billion in 2014, according to a speaker at the Prevent Blindness Focus on Eye Health National Summit in Washington, D.C.

“For the first time we estimated the total economic burden of eye disorders and vision loss for all age groups of the United States and reported these costs by category, by disease, and by payer,” John Wittenborn, a health economist working with Prevent Blindness and the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, said in a live webcast of the summit. We’re taking these prevalences and these costs and forecasting them from the current year through the year 2050.”

Prevalence of vision problems and costs will shift to conditions that are more prevalent at older ages and more common among minorities, Wittenborn said in the presentation. In the next 18 years, the Baby Boomers will age fully into Medicare, reaching the age at which the incidence of eye disease and vision loss begin to accelerate, Wittenborn said.

“Out to 2050, the Baby Boomers [will be] essentially elderly, in the 90 plus population. The important implication of this is that the 90 plus population is predicted to be by far the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population over the next 40 years,” Wittenborn said.

Prevalence of eye diseases is going to increase 60% to 80% by 2050, Wittenborn said, with cataract being most prevalent in the growing older population and with glaucoma not only affecting the increasingly older age group but also minority groups – blacks and Hispanics – whose populations are increasing in the U.S. as well.

The 90 plus population will see the highest rates of growth in prevalence and costs by 2050, Wittenborn said, but little data are available for this population.

“Many costs are going to shift to this population, which right now is frankly very small and not always well-considered or included in the research,” he said.

Disclosure: No products or companies are discussed that would require financial disclosures.