Eye Health Problems among the Most Costly in U.S.

In the current national spotlight is much discussion and public debate about health-care costs and health insurance coverage. Our BFS community members who face the daily challenges of chronic and life-threatening illness know all too well the impact of high health-care costs. A report published by Prevent Blindness America sheds light on the steep financial burden that results specifically from eye health disorders.

Vision disorders can seriously impact quality of life but often don’t often receive a great deal of attention as they are not life-threatening. Analysis detailed in The Cost of Vision Problems reveals that the nation’s annual cost of vision disorders is more than that of three of the top seven major chronic diseases in the U.S. and totals a staggering $139 billion. Over half of these costs are paid directly by patients and their families. The cost breakdown among payers yields the following data:

  • Government:  $47.4 billion
  • Private Insurance: $20.8 billion (direct medical costs), $1.3 billion (long-term care)
  • Patients and their Families: $71.6 billion

Study co-author John Wittenborn of the University of Chicago explains that the report takes into account both direct and indirect costs of vision problems. Indirect costs encompass productivity loss, aids for low-vision, and long-term care placement. Surprisingly, the indirect costs exceed direct costs making up 52% of the total. These numbers illustrate the profound impact of vision care costs on the national economy. The total cost of vision problems is expected to further increase as the U.S. population ages and health-care costs continue to rise.

Researchers note that early detection and diagnosis of vision disorders are vital components in reducing this cost burden. Once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. However, if eye conditions are detected and treated early in the disease process, appropriate treatment can often retain existing vision and prevent further vision loss. The authors of this study are hopeful that their detailed analysis will draw attention and funding to vision research that is vital to developing new and better treatments for eye diseases and vision loss.