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At the Focus on Eye Health National Summit, Prevent Blindness Releases Study Projecting Year 2050 Annual Eye Disorder Costs $377 B, With Half Borne by Federal Government

Legislative Update
June 18, 2014

Addressing the standing room-only crowd at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. keynote speaker Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, M.D., Acting United States Surgeon General, noted the important of blindness prevention to a healthy society and “deputized” each of the attendees as public health advocates
Addressing the standing room-only crowd at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. keynote speaker Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, M.D., Acting United States Surgeon General, noted the important of blindness prevention to a healthy society and “deputized” each of the attendees as public health advocates
On June 18 at the Third Annual Focus on Eye Health National Summit held at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Prevent Blindness (PB) released a new report entitled The Future of Vision: Forecasting the Prevalence and Costs of Vision Problems. This study estimates the current annual cost of vision disorders at $145 billion, which has increased by $6 billion from the $139 billion estimate in PB’s 2013 study entitled Cost of Vision Problems: The Economic Burden of Vision Loss and Eye Disorders in the United States. The 2014 study projects that the total annual cost of vision disorders, which includes government, insurance and patient costs, will grow to $373.2 billion in 2050 when expressed in 2014 dollars-which is $717 billion when adjusted for inflation. Of the $373.2 billion estimated 2050 costs, $154 billion or 41 percent will be borne by the federal government as the Baby-Boom generation ages into the Medicare program.

PB commissioned the study by the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center (NORC), which was presented by health economist John Wittenborn. He highlighted that prevalence of vision disorders and costs will shift to conditions that are more common at older ages and for minorities:

  • The age 90-plus population will see the highest rates of growth in prevalence and costs by 2050, since it will be the fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, reflecting the aging over the next 40 years of the Baby-Boom generation. Currently, the age 90-plus population is relatively small and the economic costs associated with health disorders are not well-characterized.

  • The prevalence of eye diseases is going to increase by 60 to 80 percent by 2050, with cataract being most prevalent in the growing older population and with prevalence of diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma also increasing and driven by greater incidence in the African American and Hispanic segments of the population.
The standing room-only crowd at the Summit not only heard the study results, but a variety of presentations about several aspects of eye health. Keynote speaker Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak, M.D., the Acting United States Surgeon General, stated that “preventing blindness plays a large role in the mission of a healthy society.” He announced that the 2014 issue of the Surgeon General’s Report entitled The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress for the first time recognizes a causal link between smoking and neovascular and atrophic forms of age-related macular degeneration (AMD). A 2004 edition of the report had already established a causal link between smoking and cataract. Other vision disorders that might be causally linked to smoking in the future include diabetic retinopathy and dry eye syndrome, although the evidence is not currently adequate to make a conclusion.

Bernard Steinmann, Ph.D. of the Gerentology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston spoke about falls as a public health problem. “A disproportionate share of vision impairment is experienced by the ‘oldest’ old, which is also the fastest growing segment of the population and the most likely to fall.” He noted that effective intervention strategies consist of multiple components that address relationships between vision impairment and other fall risk factors.

PB shared the study results with Capitol Hill through a June 17 Congressional Briefing and June 18 Congressional Vision Caucus Reception. NAEVR and AEVR were pleased to be sponsors of all of these study release events. NAEVR has hand-delivered a letter to members of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education (LHHS) Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate that summarizes study results and cautions that these dramatically higher forecasts of prevalence and cost come at a time when research funding at the National Eye Institute (NEI) and vision loss prevention funding at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vision Health Initiative have been reduced due to a combination of flat funding, sequester cuts, and lack of inflationary increases.

Left to right: John Wittenborn (National Opinion Research Center/University of Chicago), the PB study author, presented results; John Crews, D.P.A. of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vision Health Initiative, spoke about vision impairment and chronic conditions; and Bernard Steinmann, Ph.D. of the Gerentology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, spoke about vision and falls
Left to right: John Wittenborn (National Opinion Research Center/University of Chicago), the PB study author, presented results; John Crews, D.P.A. of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Vision Health Initiative, spoke about vision impairment and chronic conditions; and Bernard Steinmann, Ph.D. of the Gerentology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston, spoke about vision and falls
Left to right: Neil Bressler, M.D. (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) spoke about the impact of diabetes-he serves as the Chair of the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network, while Cynthia Owsley. Ph.D. (University of Alabama at Birmingham), who served as a moderator,  is the leading researcher on safe senior driving
Left to right: Neil Bressler, M.D. (Wilmer Eye Institute/Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine) spoke about the impact of diabetes-he serves as the Chair of the National Eye Institute’s (NEI) Diabetic Retinopathy Clinical Research Network, while Cynthia Owsley. Ph.D. (University of Alabama at Birmingham), who served as a moderator, is the leading researcher on safe senior driving
In its third year, the Summit has grown to be a must-attend event for the vision community at which Prevent Blindness releases results of new studies on the prevalence and cost of vision disorders
In its third year, the Summit has grown to be a must-attend event for the vision community at which Prevent Blindness releases results of new studies on the prevalence and cost of vision disorders
Left to right: Michael Buckley (BrightFocus Foundation), Arthur Makar (Fight for Sight) and Brian Hofland, Ph.D. (Research to Prevent Blindness)
Left to right: Michael Buckley (BrightFocus Foundation), Arthur Makar (Fight for Sight) and Brian Hofland, Ph.D. (Research to Prevent Blindness)
Left to right:  Director of the NEI Office of Translational Research Matt McMahon, Ph.D. and ARVO’s Matt Windsor, Ph.D.
Left to right: Director of the NEI Office of Translational Research Matt McMahon, Ph.D. and ARVO’s Matt Windsor, Ph.D.
Left to right: NAEVR/AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky with Torrey DeKeyser (EyeSight Foundation of Alabama)
Left to right: NAEVR/AEVR Executive Director James Jorkasky with Torrey DeKeyser (EyeSight Foundation of Alabama)