OCTOBER 26, 2012 BY GWINSTON
Most people agree that healthcare options in the United States have increased, as has the cost required to obtain them. The lifespan of Americans has increased along with the desire to live a longer life, as long as we remain in good health. Longer lives may be one reason why elderly people are getting joint replacements in much higher numbers than in previous years.
A study was recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association about more than three million patients with Medicare who received knee replacements. The patients were at least 65 years old and had knee surgery between 1991 to 2010. One aspect the study focused on was the impact that other health-related conditions, such as obesity, had on the surgeries. During the period of the study, the number of joint replacement procedures more than doubled and continued to increase by 162 percent by the end of the study. Besides the initial replacement surgery, follow-up procedures increased due to other health-related issues or to repair previous knee replacements. The number of people eligible for the knee replacement surgery increased during the study. The number of older Americans increased during that time and the majority cited the desire to be more active in their later years as a reason for the surgery. Nearly 60 percent of the knee surgeries performed were covered by Medicare, which pays a very small portion of the overall cost of the material and procedures.
The knee replacement surgery does very well at getting an individual mobile once again. There are several conditions that increase the wear and tear on joints, ultimately requiring replacement to maintain an active lifestyle. Osteoporosis is a wearing down of bone without being naturally replenished by the body. Diabetes causes a lack of blood flow to bones and joints reducing bone growth. Obesity puts an extra burden on joints and causes them to deform and wear out because of the extra stress of supporting too much weight. In the study, nearly 12 percent of the patients getting their first knee replacement were obese, an increase from four percent in previous years. Obesity can be a factor in arthritis, which is the primary reason for knee replacements. Those who might require mobility assistance while awaiting or recovering from surgery are well taken care of.
In a study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention published early this year, it is estimated that more than 40 percent of the American population will be obese by 2030. The current obesity rate is around 35 percent. The implication is that obesity-related medical procedures will continue to rise, as will the cost of our overall health care system. The additional burden on the healthcare system could range from $45 billion to $65 billion.
Obesity is one area of a person’s health that most people can control. Few people have conditions that cause obesity without some assistance. As our population gets older and we have the chance to live longer, we’re faced with a huge problem that can be solved. It will be the individual’s attention to their own health and weight that will bring these numbers down. These studies highlight the impact that our weight and attitude about health have on the cost of our healthcare.
Watching our weight, reducing the number of obesity-related illnesses and resulting surgeries, as well as spending fewer days in the hospital, will pay off for us all in the future.