Osteoporosis is costly for Californians, according to UCSF researchers

By Maureen McInaney

Costs for osteoporosis in California topped $2.4 billion in 1998, with hip fracture accounting for 64 percent of the burden, according to researchers in the UCSF School of Nursing Institute for Health & Aging. The study, the first to analyze cost of osteoporosis in California, appears in the June, 2002 issue of Osteoporosis International.

According to the researchers, the disease impacts mostly women. Of those hospitalized, 80 percent are white and 75 percent are over age 65. Medicare pays for most of the hospital care, and nursing home care represents the largest cost for people with osteoporosis (59 percent of the dollars spent treating the disease). The researchers noted that nursing home costs are large because osteoporotic fractures often lead to institutionalization.

“This is a hidden disease in that the diagnosis ‘osteoporosis’ is rarely recorded as the main reason for a hospitalization. Most people are unaware they even have the disease until they suffer a fracture. In 1998 in California, over 400 people died shortly after suffering a fracture. Yet, osteoporosis was only listed as the underlying cause of death for 90 people,” said Wendy Max, PhD, co-director of the UCSF School of Nursing Institute for Health & Aging and UCSF professor of health economics.

“With the aging of the baby boomers, we have to educate women and men about the risks of osteoporosis at early ages to prevent illness and disability in later ages. It is critical that we promote early detection so that interventions can prevent fractures.”

In addition to hospitalizations and nursing home care, estimates include costs of physician services, medications, emergency department visits, and home health care. Indirect costs - the value of lost productivity resulting from premature death—are estimated at $4 million, according to the researchers.

Additional researchers on the study include Patricia Sinnott, PT, MPH, former research associate in the UCSF Institute for Health & Aging; Chi Kao, PhD, former research specialist at the UCSF Institute for Health & Gaing; Hai-Yen Sung, PhD, research specialist in the UCSF Institute for Health & Aging; and Dorothy P. Rice, ScD (Hon.), professor emerita in the UCSF Institute for Health & Aging.

The research was supported by funds from the state of California Department of Health Services’ California Osteoporosis Prevention and Education (COPE) Program.