While some disease-prevention
programs do produce net savings, such as childhood immunizations and counseling
adults about using baby aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease, most preventive
care does not save money, says an article by Reuters
Following the release yesterday of a
new report from Trust for America's Health (TFAH) that calls for putting more
resources into preventive care, economic experts challenged TFAH's position on preventive
care's role in reducing health care spending. (See related article posted in News Now tilted "TFAH Releases
Strategies to Improve Nation's Health in 4 Years.")
"Preventive care is more about
the right thing to do" because it spares people the misery of illness,
economist Austin Frakt of Boston University told Reuters. "But it's not plausible to think you can cut health care
spending through preventive care. This is widely misunderstood."
2010 study in Health Affairs, for
instance, calculated that if 90% of the US population used proven preventive
services, more than do now, it would save only 0.2% of health care spending.
One reason why preventive care does
not save money, say health economists, is that some of the best-known forms
don't actually improve someone's health. These low- or no-benefit measures
include annual physicals for healthy adults.
The second reason preventive care
brings so few cost savings is the large number of people who need to receive a
particular preventive service in order to avert a single expensive illness.
A promising approach is to target preventive care at those most likely to
develop a chronic disease, not at low-risk people. Such "smart"
prevention increases the chances of preventing expensive diseases and saving
In contrast, unthinking expansion of preventive medicine is the wrong
prescription, the article says.