Fewer Americans with Alzheimer’s and $149 billion in annual Medicare and Medicaid savings by 2025

A new Alzheimer’s Association report released today shows that medical research breakthroughs could result in nearly three million fewer Americans with the disease and $149 billion in annual Medicare and Medicaid savings by 2025.

Speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference with members of the Senate and House, Sheldon Goldberg, president and CEO of the Alzheimer’s Association, urged Congress to increase the federal investment in Alzheimer research at the National Institutes of Health to at least $1 billion annually.

“With a five-year investment in research, we could achieve major breakthroughs in delaying the onset of the disease and slowing its progression,” Goldberg said. “The resulting savings to our overburdened health care system would be astronomical. If Congress wants to control health care costs, Alzheimer’s disease is the place to begin, and the time to begin is now.”

Goldberg said that for every dollar spent now on research, taxpayers would receive a tremendous return in future savings on Medicare and Medicaid costs –12 to 1 by 2015, 30 to 1 by 2025, and over 100 to 1 by 2050 – if the disease could be delayed a few years and its progression slowed. Preventing the disease would produce an even higher return.

Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA), Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Labor Health and Human Services Subcommittee stated, “these findings show that increasing spending now for Alzheimer research will pay significant dividends for the future in terms of both lessening human suffering and saving billions of dollars in Medicare and Medicaid spending. I'm delighted to join with the Alzheimer's Association in calling for setting the goal of $1 billion for Alzheimer research.”

Today, Medicare beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s account for 34 percent of Medicare spending, even though they constitute only 12.8 percent of the population over the age of 65. With the nation’s 77 million baby boomers approaching old age, the number of Americans with the disease and associated costs are projected to soar. Adequate funding for research on prevention and treatments must begin now because the boomers will begin to enter the age of risk for the disease in 2010.

The report, entitled, Saving Lives, Saving Money: Dividends for Americans from Investing in Alzheimer Research, was conducted by the Lewin Group, an international health and human services consulting firm, on behalf of the Alzheimer’s Association. The firm analyzed the impact of Alzheimer’s disease research breakthroughs on costs and disease prevalence. The report assumed that with a sufficient level of funding, researchers will be able to find a) a way to delay onset of the disease as much as they have been able to delay onset of congestive heart failure; and b) a way to slow progression as much as scientists have slowed the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

Working collaboratively, the federal government, the Alzheimer’s Association, and the pharmaceutical industry have made great research advances over the past 20 years that have laid the foundation for major breakthroughs in prevention, diagnosis, and treatment in the years ahead.

"Increasing funding for Alzheimer research will increase the pace of discoveries that could slow or delay the progression of the disease and eventually prevent it,” said Ronald Petersen, M.D., Ph.D., a member of the Alzheimer’s Association’s Medical and Scientific Advisory Council, President Ronald Reagan’s neurologist and member of a team of physicians who diagnosed the President with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Mayo Clinic. “We can build a future without Alzheimer's disease if we act now to achieve breakthroughs in science."

The projected Medicaid and Medicare savings would come from a dramatic reduction in the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and a substantial reduction in the numbers who progress to severe stages of the disease when care needs and costs are highest. The new report shows that the projected research advances would lead to:

  • A drop in the number of Americans projected to have Alzheimer’s in 2025 from 6.5 million to 3.6 million – a nearly 45 percent decrease.
  • Significant savings in Medicare spending on people with Alzheimer’s. If the projected research breakthroughs occur by 2010, taxpayers would begin to see savings as early as 2015, when Medicare spending would decline by $51 billion to $138 billion. By 2025, annual spending for beneficiaries who are now projected to have Alzheimer’s would decline by 43 percent, or $126 billion – from $294 billion to $168 billion. And by 2050, Medicare would save $444 billion in annual spending for beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s – from $1,049 billion to $605 billion. In addition, 5.3 million fewer Americans would have Alzheimer’s disease in 2050 because of the advances.
  • Dramatic savings in Medicaid spending for nursing home care for people with Alzheimer’s disease. Medicaid would have savings of up to 60 percent by 2025 because of improvements in prevention and treatment. Without medical advances, Medicaid spending is projected to increase from $27 billion in 2015 to $38 billion in 2025 and $118 billion by 2050. With improvements in prevention and treatment, the 2015 cost is projected to be $17 billion, the 2025 cost is $15 billion, and the 2050 cost is $48 billion.

The Association believes that a $1 billion annual investment would be a fitting tribute to the late President Reagan and his family. Last week, Senators Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) and Christopher Bond (R-MO) introduced legislation that would authorize a doubling of annual research spending to $1.4 billion. Similar legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressmen Ed Markey (D- MA) and Chris Smith (R-NJ).

Goldberg warned that Congress and the Administration must move quickly. “There is a narrow window of time to reach these breakthroughs in order to achieve these savings,” he said. “Because the process that leads to the devastating effects of Alzheimer’s begins at least 10 years before symptoms appear, we must find ways to delay onset before boomers enter the age of risk. That is why the increased investment in Alzheimer research must be made now.”

The portion of the report prepared by The Lewin Group was funded through an unrestricted grant by PhRMA to the Alzheimer's Association.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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