Lung Disease Costs the Economy Billions: Study

March 22, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
lung disease
A study by the Conference Board of Canada estimates the total cost to the economy of chronic lung disease could rise to $24.1 billion by 2030. (Photos.com)

Chronic lung disease took a $12-billion toll on the Canadian economy in 2010, and could cost double that amount by 2030 if existing strategies for dealing with the disease aren’t enhanced, says a study by the Conference Board of Canada.

The estimates are based on direct health care costs, including the cost of hospitals, doctors, and medications, accounting for $3.4 billion in 2010, as well as indirect costs such as premature death and long-term disability, accounting for $8.6 billion.

The study looked at the economic burden of the three major chronic lung diseases: lung cancer, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (which includes bronchitis and emphysema.)

“These three diseases exact an enormous human and economic toll,” Louis Theriault, director of health economics at the Conference Board of Canada, said in a statement.

Theriault said reducing smoking rates, minimizing exposure to second-hand smoke, and improving indoor and outdoor air quality—factors specifically associated with chronic lung disease—would reduce the economic burden of these diseases.

The board considered two forecast scenarios in projecting the costs lung disease will impose on the Canadian economy by 2030.

In the base scenario, the existing policies currently in place to curb the disease remain the same. Although the existing strategies have helped bring about a positive trend, the increasingly ageing population in Canada implies that more Canadians will get chronic lung disease in the decades to come.

The board projects that lung diseases will increase by 32 percent in 2030 compared to 2010 in the base scenario, doubling the costs associated with the disease to $24.1 billion in that year.

In the second scenario, the board considered that additional policies to reduce risk factors will be implemented by authorities.

In this case, the prevalence of chronic lung disease is expected to rise by just over 29 percent, resulting in $1.56 billion less of a burden on the economy in 2030 compared to the base-case scenario with no new policies.

Considering the savings each year between 2010 and 2030, the burden on the economy could be alleviated by a cumulative $12.4 billion.

The study was commissioned by the Public Health Agency of Canada to support the objectives of the National Lung Health Framework, an action plan developed by respiratory health stakeholders to improve respiratory health in Canada.

The study is meant to provide a forecast of the direct and indirect costs of the three major lung diseases across the nation.

The board found that reducing smoking rates is the most important lung disease prevention strategy among the prevention strategies it modelled.

The best policy interventions to address this risk factor, the report suggests, are price and tax increases and “dramatic” health warnings on cigarette packages. Implementing assistance programs to help people quit smoking is another strong policy intervention, the board says.

Reducing exposure to second-hand smoke as well as improving air quality are also important factors in reducing prevalence of lung disease.

“Recent changes to Canada’s building code are likely to be more cost-effective in reducing the economic burden of lung cancer due to radon exposure,” the report says.

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