Special Report

$1.1 Trillion: What the 10 Leading Causes of Death Cost the U.S. Economy

10. Suicide
> No. of deaths: 37,793
> Change since 2000: 15% increase in death rate
> Total cost: $36 billion

The age-adjusted suicide rate in America has been steadily increasing over the past decade, and the costs associated with successful and unsuccessful suicide attempts continue to rise. In successful suicide attempts, more than 99.6% of the costs are due to lost wages and work productivity. In 2010, the most recent available estimate, successful suicides cost the economy approximately $34 billion. The overall cost is even higher when all intentionally inflicted self-harm is included. In 2010, there were more than 450,000 injuries in this category, which cost the economy an additional $3 billion in direct medical care costs and $5.1 billion in indirect costs due to lost wages and productivity. The rate of self-inflicted injuries increased by 36% since 2000, a greater increase than suicide itself.

9. Pneumonia and the Flu
> No. of deaths: 50,003
> Change since 2000: 32% decrease in death rate
> Total cost: $40 billion

Despite widespread use of vaccinations, influenza continues to be a major cause of death in the United States. While the death rate due to both pneumonia and flu has fallen by 32% over the past decade, the impact of the flu itself varies widely from year to year. In 2000, flu directly accounted for 1,765 of the 65,313 deaths in the category, compared to 494 of 50,003 in 2010. Much of this variation is due to the differing severity of the flu strains each year, as well as the success of the yearly flu vaccine. Until a better flu vaccine is invented, this wide variation is likely to continue. Pneumonia and the flu cost $6 billion in direct medical care and another $34.2 billion in projected lost earnings in 2007, according to the American Lung Association. This represented an increase of nearly 50% from 2003, the previously reported year.

8. Renal Disease
> No. of deaths: 50,472
> Change since 2000: 21% increase in death rate
> Total cost: $61 billion

Not only do kidney diseases cause an increasing number of deaths every year, their total cost has also been rising at an even faster pace. Dialysis, the process of filtering the blood of a patient with failing kidneys, is an enormously expensive medical procedure. In 2007, direct medical treatments cost the U.S. economy $54 billion. Between 2000 and 2009, the direct costs of kidney diseases doubled in the Medicare budget, from $12 billion to $24 billion, according to the U.S. Renal Data System. As diabetes and obesity rates continue to rise, the costs of damaged kidneys will continue to skyrocket.

7. Diabetes Mellitus
> No. of deaths: 68,905
> Change since 2000: 11% decrease in death rate
> Total cost: $112 billion

Deaths attributable to diabetes have been falling because of increased awareness and treatment of the disease complications. But even as deaths from the disease decline, more and more Americans are diagnosed and the costs of the disease continue to rise. In 2002, the American Diabetes Association (ADA) estimated that the 12.1 million Americans diagnosed with the disease cost twice as much per person in direct medical expenses compared to otherwise similar people without diabetes. That same year, they estimated $92 billion in direct costs and an additional $40 billion in losses to the U.S. economy. By 2007, there were 17.5 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes. That year, according to the ADA, costs jumped to $116 billion in direct costs and $58 billion in lost wages and productivity, for an inflation-adjusted increase of $21 billion over five years. According to the World Diabetes Foundation, 80% of type 2 diabetes, which represents roughly 90% of all cases, is preventable by changing eating habits, increasing physical activity, and improving living situations. Unless people start living a healthier lifestyle, this disease will continue to be a major drain on the U.S. economy.

6. Alzheimer’s Disease
> No. of deaths: 83,308
> Change since 2000: 50% increase in death rate
> Total cost: $70 billion

As of 2011, an estimated 5.4 million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease. This number is projected to hit 13.2 million by 2050, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Alzheimer’s is a very expensive disease with high direct medical costs, as well as lost productivity from patients and unpaid care given by the family and friends. This last category is not counted in government reports as part of the disease’s cost, but was estimated at more than $200 billion in 2010 for over 17 billion hours of unpaid care. As of 2004, total medical costs for Medicare beneficiaries with Alzheimer’s disease were three times the cost of similarly aged people without the disease. From 2005 to 2011, the total direct costs of Alzheimer’s disease increased from $91 billion to $183 billion, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. By 2050, this is projected to increase to $1.1 trillion (in 2011 dollars).

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