Commentary: Chronic diseases, obesity drive up health care costs

Too many fancy tests, high doctor fees, overpaid insurance companies — all of these contribute to the unrelenting rise in the cost of health care in America. But there's one monster issue that the experts say outweighs the others: chronic disease.

Chronic diseases like diabetes and hypertension account for three-fourths of the country's health care spending, says one of the leading national experts, Kenneth E. Thorpe of Emory University.

Obesity alone, a prime cause of chronic disease, is responsible for 30 percent of the increase in Medicare spending over the past decade, Thorpe says.

That means that, to wrestle health care costs under control, we'd better get a handle on those chronic diseases — and on our weight problem.

Fortunately, there's plenty of room for improvement. "The vast majority of cases" of chronic disease could be better managed, says Thorpe. Diabetics can be coached to keep their blood sugar under control, for example, and avoid expensive medical crises. Better managing or preventing chronic diseases saves money on hospitalizations or emergency room visits later.

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