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Osteoporosis-Related Fractures Costing Healthcare System Billions Annually

Cheryl Clark, for HealthLeaders Media, July 22, 2009

As policymakers look to reduce healthcare costs, they might look closely at ways to prevent osteoporosis, the culprit that led to 1 million hospitalizations in 2006, 254,000 of which were because of fractures stemming from the gradual loss of bone, according to a new report released by the federal Agency for Health Research and Quality.

Using statistics from a nationally representative sample of hospital inpatient stays, the Agency for Health Research and Quality found that not only did these patients generate $2.4 billion in costs in 2006, they required longer hospital stays and two-thirds were admitted through the emergency department.

And more than half the patients were more likely to be discharged to a long-term nursing home or rehabilitation center, compared to 16% of all patients requiring hospitalization for any reason. Fractures can be slow to heal, cause debilitating pain, disability, deformities, and, sometimes, death.

Because most such patients are at least age 65, Medicare paid 87.4% of the bill, according to the report.

"An estimated 10 million people in the U.S. had osteoporosis in 2006," wrote Allison Russo, Laurel Holmquist, and Anne Elixhauser from the AHRQ.

"Despite its prevalence and impact, osteoporosis is both a preventable and treatable condition. Vitamin D, a diet high in calcium, regular exercise and access to bone mineral density screenings and medical treatment can prevent, improve and slow the progression of the condition," they wrote.

However, they continued, "barriers to care, such as variations and limitations in provider coverage of screening tests, could inhibit early detection and treatment, creating a substantial strain on the U.S. healthcare system as the population ages."

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