The Financial Burden of Eye Disease

Ellen Troyer, MT MA
Biosyntrx CEO/Chief Research Officer
May 11, 2012
The National Eye Institute (NEI) estimates that the current annual cost of vision impairment and degenerative eye disease to the United States private and public sector exceeds $68 billion. And this number does not fully quantify the impact of lost productivity, diminished quality of life, increased depression and accelerated mortality.
This financial burden is expected to increase dramatically by the year 2020, as the number and proportion of seniors’ increases. The National Eye Institute (NEI) recognizes vision impairment and eye disease as a major public health problem that is:

  • growing ever larger due to an aging population
  • disproportionately incident in minority populations a significant co-morbid condition from the epidemic of diabetes, specifically diabetic retinopathy

In public opinion polls over the past 40 years, Americans have consistently identified fear of vision loss as second only to fear of cancer. Blindness or low vision currently affects 3.3 million Americans age 40+, or one in 28, and is projected to reach 5.5 million by the year 2020.
The societal implications of visual impairment and eye disease are important because the year 2000 census counted more than 119 million Americans age 40+ who are most at risk from age-related eye disease such as AMD, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.
Macular Degeneration affects the macula which is necessary for central vision. It dramatically affects quality of life by depriving the individual of the ability to read and drive. This condition has an enormous impact on the health and independence of older Americans.

  • More than 1.8 million Americans currently have advanced AMD.
  • Advanced AMD is expected to grow to 3 million by the year 2020.
  • 7.3 million Americans currently have initial or intermediate-stage macular degeneration.

Glaucoma, a chronic, potentially blinding, disease requires life-long treatment. It is now the leading cause of blindness in the fast-growing Hispanic population age 65+ and is almost three times as common in African Americans as in white Americans.

  • Glaucoma presently affects 2.2 million Americans.
  • 3.3 million more Americans are expected to develop glaucoma by 2020.

Diabetic retinopathy is the leading cause of blindness in the industrialized world in people between ages 25 and 74.

  • It currently affects 4.1 million Americans age 40+ or one out of 12 Americans with diabetes
  • Diabetic retinopathy is expected to affect 7.2 million Americans by the year 2020.

Many people do not know they are diabetic until vision loss symptoms occur. With estimates of 50 million Americans developing diabetes by the year 2020 at a yearly cost of one trillion dollars.
Cataracts are the leading cause of low vision.

  • They affect nearly 20.5 million Americans age 65+.
  • Cataracts are projected to increase to 30.1 million by the year 2020.

The year 2020 is just around the corner, therefore the expanding population at risk for eye and vision disease increasingly demands more focus on eye disease prevention, as well as new and more effective therapies that stabilize vision loss.
The fear of vision loss is next to fear of cancer. Given that vision loss is projected to quickly become one of the major health problems in this country, it becomes imperative that eye disease researchers and eye care professionals focus on degenerative disease prevention. Patient education that explains the eye health benefits of life style choices that include smoking cessation, healthy diets, weight control, dietary supplements, exercise, stress reduction and limited alcohol intake should become a major part of every eye exam. We urge everyone to become an advocate for vision research through the National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research.
James Jorkasky, Executive Director, National Alliance for Eye and Vision Research

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