Focus on chronically ill to cut Medicare costs by 10%

New research recommends preventing chronic disease to reduce the Medicare program's costs, MedPage Today reported.

That's because virtually all of Medicare spending is linked to chronically ill patients, according to the report by Ken Thorpe, health policy professor at Atlanta's Emory University.

Creating efforts to prevent and coordinate care for patients with chronic conditions can save Medicare 5 percent to 10 percent of its total spending.

However, few, if any, of the policy proposals to curb Medicare spending actually address the rise in preventable chronic disease, Thorpe said yesterday, MedPage noted.

The report bolsters May research from the Urban Institute that found reducing the prevalence of the chronic conditions by only 1 percent could save $3.6 million a year in California.

In particular, Thorpe calls for making the Diabetes Prevention Program, the "best-known lifestyle modification program," a covered benefit under traditional Medicare to save money and improve outcomes.  

That lifestyle intervention program reduced the prevalence of diabetes by 58 percent, according to a large-scale randomized trial. Therefore, enrolling one cohort of overweight, pre-diabetic seniors into the Diabetes Prevention Program could lead to $2 billion in net savings over 10 years.

Unlike traditional Medicare, some private health plans including Aetna, EmblemHealth, Florida Blue and Molina Healthcare offer the Diabetes Prevention Program to help combat rising healthcare costs, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

Meanwhile, the American Hospital Association recently concluded that chronic disease is rising in the Medicare population.

For more:
- read the MedPage Today article
- here's the report (.pdf)