Illness Linked to Eye Trouble Costs Medicare Billions

TUESDAY, Feb. 13 (HealthDay News) -- Vision loss costs the U.S. Medicare program more than $2 billion a year for the care of non-eye related medical problems, such as depression and disability, a new study finds.

The study was conducted by researchers affiliated with the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies, the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University, and Pfizer Inc.

"We have always understood the devastating personal impact of blinding eye disease on patients and their families. With this study, we are seeing the serous economic impact of poor vision on the health care system and those who pay for it," study lead researcher Dr. Jonathan C. Javitt said in a prepared statement.

The study authors looked at data on about 1.5 million beneficiaries continuously enrolled in Medicare from 1999 to 2003 and found that those with moderate, severe and total vision loss increased their risk for depression, injuries and the need for nursing home care.

The researchers estimated that in 2003, blindness and vision loss among beneficiaries cost Medicare $2.14 billion in non-eye related medical expenses. Individuals with moderate vision loss, severe loss, and blindness had annual non-eye related medical costs of $2,193, $3,301, and $4,443, respectively, higher than people with normal vision.

Many of the vision problems were caused by age-related macular degeneration (AMD), glaucoma, and cataracts that had not been surgically removed.

The findings indicate that Medicare and other medical insurance plans need to place more emphasis on providing preventive eye care for patients, said the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).

"These are all treatable conditions. If identified early, the adverse effects of glaucoma and AMD can be minimized, and cataracts can easily be treated," Dr. H. Dunbar Hoskins, AAO executive vice president, said in a prepared statement. "With the results of this study, it is clear that taking care of your eyesight is not only in the best interest of patient health, but it also a benefit to the country's Medicare system," he said.

"With the soaring costs of health care, this study is an important reminder that preventing vision loss saves both sight and money," Hoskins added.

The findings are published in the journal Ophthalmology.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American Academy of Ophthalmology, news release, February 2007

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