‘Game changing’ economic report: Supplements could save billions of dollars in health care costs

By Stephen DANIELLS

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Health care, Medicine

‘Game changing’ economic report: Supplements could save billions of dollars in health care costs
Dietary supplement regimens may reduce the number of disease-associated medical events, representing the potential for hundreds of millions of dollars – and in some cases billions – of savings, according to a new report by Frost & Sullivan and commissioned by the Council for Responsible Nutrition (CRN) Foundation.

In the U.S., 75% of health care dollars go to the treatment of chronic disease, with only 3% spent on prevention, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Researchers at F&S conducted a systematic review of hundreds of scientific studies on eight dietary supplement regimens across four diseases to determine the reduction in disease risk from these preventive practices. The firm then projected the rates of medical events across the high-risk populations and applied cost benefit analyses to determine the cost savings if people at high risk took supplements at preventive intake levels.

The report, Smart Prevention—Health Care Cost Savings Resulting from the Targeted Use of Dietary Supplements​, can be found by  clicking here​,

 “Chronic disease takes a huge toll on people’s quality of life, and the health care system spends a tremendous amount of money treating chronic disease, but has failed to focus on ways to reduce those costs through prevention,”​ said Steve Mister, president, CRN Foundation.

“We already knew that the dietary supplements identified in the report can play a role in reducing the risk of certain chronic diseases; we felt compelled to find out if they could also contribute to health care cost savings by reducing the medical events associated with those conditions. This new report says emphatically that they do.”

‘Game-changer’

Chris Shanahan, global program manager, Frost & Sullivan, said the report’s findings were a ‘game-changer’.

“As an economist in the face of escalating health care costs, it’s rewarding to reveal good news for health care practitioners, public policy officials, insurance companies and patients that select supplement interventions can reduce the chances of experiencing a costly medical event and help control rising health care costs,” ​said Shanahan.

“I anticipate this report will fuel the critical conversation around the importance of preventive health care practices to control health care spending, and the critical role dietary supplements can play in reducing the risk of medical events associated with these diseases.”

Big savings

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"Supplements could also contribute to health care cost savings by reducing the medical events associated with those conditions" - Steve Mister, CRN

The key findings of the potential for health care cost savings when US adults aged 55 and older and diagnosed with these chronic diseases, used one of eight different dietary supplement regimens:

Calcium plus vitamin D​ in US women with osteoporosis: The potential net savings avoided osteoporosis-related hospital utilization costs after accounting for the cost of calcium and vitamin D supplements preventive daily intake levels would be $1.25bn. Taking into account the fact that about 28% of this target population already takes these supplements, the overall savings per year are $1.08 bn.

Magnesium​ for osteoporosis: The potential net savings after accounting for magnesium supplement costs are $595.3 million, and with 10% of this population already taking magnesium supplements, the overall savings per year could be $530 million.

Lutein & zeaxanthin​ for age-related eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts: These supplements are reported to reduce the risk of these diseases by 23%, which would offer potential savings of $930 million, accounting for supplement costs and current supplement use (4%).

Omega-3s​ for coronary heart disease: CHD currently costs the US $77.9bn, and with omega-3s offering a relative risk reduction of 6.9%, the overall net potential savings would be $930 million, accounting for supplement costs and current supplement use (28%), and more than $3.88 billion in cumulative health care cost savings from 2013 to 2020.

B vitamins (folic acid, B6, and B12)​ for CHD: The science suggests that B vitamins may offer a relative risk reduction of 3.3%, said the Frost & Sullivan researchers, which would translate into $560 million of net savings, accounting for supplement costs and current supplement use (14%).

Psyllium dietary fiber ​for CHD: Psyllium supplements would offer an 11.5% relative risk reduction, which would provide about $2.3 bn of savings, accounting for supplement costs and current supplement use (8%).

Phytosterols ​for CHD: Phytosterols offer an 11.2% relative risk reduction, which would provide about $3.3 bn of savings, accounting for supplement costs and current supplement use (less than 1%).

Chromium picolinate​ for potential diabetes-attributed CHD costs: This ingredients offer potential costs savings of $970 million, accounting for supplement costs and current supplement use (less than 1%).

“Open a dialogue”

CRN’s Mister added that the report provides one more reason for doctors and other health care practitioners to open a dialogue with their patients about incorporating supplement usage along with other healthy behaviors.

“For consumers, it’s a wake-up call to talk to their doctor or nurse practitioner, their pharmacist, or a registered dietitian about smart prevention, including which dietary supplements and what intake levels are right for their individual lifestyle.

“We also encourage insurers and employers that are looking for ways to lower premiums and absenteeism to consider dietary supplement regimens as part of workplace wellness programs or employee benefits.

“Chronic diseases negatively impact our lives far beyond the direct medical costs and if there are things we can do to help lessen medical events and associated costs of those diseases, we should be doing them.”

“Everyone in DC wants to save money”

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The results of the study were presented to a panel of experts at the CRN’s annual symposium for the dietary supplements industry in Park City last week. Jonathan Edelheit, editor-in-chief of Corporate Wellness Magazine, said that the Affordable Care Act focuses on prevention, so the report was timely.

Despite calling the study a, “great foundation and first step,”​ Edelheit cautioned against optimism. “It’s going to be a multi-year process,”​ he told attendees. “It will be an uphill battle to get insurance companies to participate.”

Bill McConagha, partner at Sidley Austin LLP, said that there is a “toxic debate around healthcare in the US”​, and that the basic point of the study is that, “supplements have an important role to play in transforming us from a sick health healthcare system to a system focused on health.”

“If we want to effectuate policy, then this requires an education of Congress and the CBO [Congressional Budget Office]. The CBO has been skeptical about reimbursing supplements to save healthcare costs in the past,” ​he said.

“If we’re to get the CBO to move on its position then there needs to be hard studies, and I thank CRN and Frost and Sullivan for this important first step.”

“This will be a marathon and not a sprint, and the dietary supplements industry needs a multi-faceted plan to deal with certain actions. One thing is for sure, everyone in DC wants to save money.”

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