The most expensive health condition in the United States is cardiovascular disease, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Treating people with cardiovascular disease results in costs for each U.S. state that range from $411 million to $26 billion yearly, according to the report. In addition, the costs of absenteeism (days of lost work) due to cardiovascular disease fall between $23 million and $1.3 billion for each state yearly, the report said.  

The numbers in the report come from a CDC tool called the Chronic Disease Cost Calculator, and one of the reasons the researchers wrote the report was to demonstrate exactly what the tool can do, said Justin Trogdon, an associate professor of health policy and management at the University of North Carolina and a lead author of the new report, published today (Sept. 3) in the journal Preventing Chronic Disease.

The tool produced data showing that the costs of cardiovascular disease vary across the states; Alaska spends $411 million a year on cardiovascular disease, whereas California, with its much larger population, spends approximately $26.1 billion a year, when the costs of both medical care and absenteeism are added together for these states. [See maps: The Costs of 6 Health Conditions for Each US State]

The Chronic Disease Cost Calculator was first created in 2009, and was used to estimate each state's Medicaid costs for cancer, congestive heart failure, coronary heart disease, hypertension, stroke, other heart diseases and diabetes, according to the new report. The calculator was updated in 2013 to include information on all payers (including not only Medicaid, but also Medicare and private health insurance), and to include three additional diseases: arthritis, asthma and depression. The 2013 update also took into account the costs of absenteeism.

There's a lot of data on how much certain chronic diseases cost the United States as a whole, but there's little data available at state levels, and the state level is where many policy decisions are actually made, said Trogdon, who helped to create the calculator.

There are two reasons why some diseases are more expensive than others, Trogdon said. Diseases that are very common have higher costs, because such a large number of people need to be treated — this is the case with diabetes, he said. But a disease can also have a large economic impact if it is rare, but expensive to treat, as is the case with congestive heart failure, he said.

The calculator gives state health departments a tool to estimate the economic burden of various health conditions for their individual states, Trogdon said. This will help policy makers make informed decisions about where to direct their resources to prevent disease, and reduce the costs of disease, the researchers wrote.

"It's often used as a tool for prioritization," he said. 

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