WASHINGTON The costs of heart disease in the United States will triple between now and 2030, to more than $800 billion a year, a report commissioned by the American Heart Association predicted on Monday.
Treating high blood pressure will be the most expensive part of the cost, rising to $389 billion by 2030, the report projects, with overall heart disease rising by 10 percent by then.
The report is bad news for the United States, which already has the highest per capita healthcare costs in the developed world and is struggling to lower expenses. Last week the Republican-led House of Representatives passed legislation that would repeal President Barack Obama's landmark healthcare reform law, although it will likely be scuttled by the Senate.
The report does not factor in changes that are part of the reform law, which the White House says will provide health insurance and preventive care to 32 million Americans who currently lack it.
But Heart Association CEO Dr. Nancy Brown said the legislation calls for preventive care and practices that could make a dent in the projected toll.
"The repeal of healthcare reform ... would be a catastrophe," Brown told a news conference.
"This country has a choice to make: We can wait until people get sick and figure out how to treat them or we can focus on prevention."
Dr. Paul Heidenreich of the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California and colleagues looked at current costs of heart disease, the U.S. population and trends in behavior and illness for the first such projection of heart disease costs.
"Between 2010 and 2030, real total direct medical costs of cardiovascular disease are projected to triple, from $272.5 billion to $818.1 billion," reads the report, published in the journal Circulation.
MOST HEART DISEASE PREVENTABLE
The report predicts that the number of heart disease cases will grow by 10 percent over the next 20 years if nothing changes, including tobacco use and obesity rates.
"By 2030, we estimate that 40 percent of U.S. adults, or 116 million people, will have one or more forms of cardiovascular disease," it reads.
Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States and most other developed countries. It accounts for 17 percent of U.S. health spending.
Healthcare spending grew to 17.6 percent of U.S. gross domestic product in 2009, from 16.6 percent the year before.
U.S. government data released this month show that spending on hospital services, doctor visits, medicines and other health needs rose 4 percent to $2.5 trillion in 2009.
Most heart disease is preventable with better diet and more exercise, according to the Heart Association. And many patients do not take their heart disease drugs as directed, or are not prescribed the optimal regimen, further raising costs.
One easy fix would be for Americans to eat less salt, the report recommended. Brown praised last week's announcement by Wal-Mart Stores Inc that it would will promote cheaper, healthier food at its stores.
"That is a big step in the right direction because we believe this will change the momentum in this country," Brown said. She also praised moves to require big restaurant chains to provide nutrition information and better community planning to encourage exercise.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)