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Take Charge of Your Health

AARP--The Magazine—December 5, 2009

Patients with diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis are embracing a self-management plan that dramatically improves their lives. So why won't insurers pay for it?

Chronic diseases are now the leading cause of disability and death in the United States, with seven in ten deaths each year attributed to such illnesses as cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and stroke.

The costs are staggering. Chronic disease accounts for 75 percent of the more than $2 trillion spent on health care each year in the United States. According to the Arthritis Foundation, arthritis alone affects 46 million Americans and costs $128 billion annually in medical costs and lost productivity.

Until our health care system improves care for those with chronic illnesses, we'll never get a handle on costs.

Until the mid-20th century, infectious diseases such as diphtheria, polio, meningitis, and chicken pox posed the greatest health threat to society. The advent of vaccines, antibiotics, and more sanitary living conditions greatly reduced mortality and increased life expectancy. But as people began living longer, chronic diseases—ongoing, generally incurable medical conditions—began to replace acute illnesses as the nation's main health care challenge.

Despite this shift, the U.S. health care system is still largely designed to treat patients with acute medical problems. "At no point in medical school are physicians exposed to patients with chronic illness, except for acute episodes leading to hospitalization," says Michael Lockshin, MD, a Harvard Medical School graduate and head of the women and rheumatic disease center at New York City's Hospital for Special Surgery. The result: Many patients shuffle from doctor to doctor in search of relief from the many complications of their chronic illnesses.

Read the full story at AARPmagazine.org.




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