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RESEARCH STUDY

RESEARCH

Economic Impact of Visual Impairment and Blindness in the United States

AUTHOR:

Kevin D. Frick, PhD, Emily W. Gower, PhD; John H. Kempen, MD, PhD; Jennifer L. Wolff, PhD

SPONSOR/INSTITUTION:

Prevent Blindness America

YEAR PUBLISHED:

2007

PUBLICATION:

JAMA Ophthalmology

KEY HIGHLIGHTS:

  • This study was conducted to assess the economic impact of excess medical and informal care and the health utility loss associated with visual impairment and blindness in adults aged 40 years and older in the United States.

  • The study concluded that blindness and visual impairment were significantly associated with higher medical care expenditures, a greater number of informal care days, and a decrease in health utility.

  • The home care component of expenditures was most affected by blindness. The aggregate annual economic impact included $5.5 billion spent for medical care and the value of informal care as well as a loss of more than 209 000 quality-adjusted life years.

  • Visual impairment has a large effect on home care. Any economic analysis of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation should account for the fraction of the annual monetary cost and loss of quality-adjusted life years that can be averted.

SUMMARY


Visual impairment has a large effect on home care. Any economic analysis of prevention, treatment, and rehabilitation should account for the fraction of the annual monetary cost and loss of quality-adjusted life years that can be averted.


Understanding the costs of a condition is useful for making an economic argument about efforts to reduce the burden of the condition. In this study, Medical Expenditure Panel Survey data are used to estimate the economic impact of visual impairment and blindness for individuals aged 40 years and older in the United States. Cost and quality-of-life measures are present, which have not previously been included in US analyses.


The costs of visual impairment and blindness have been characterized in the United States, Australia, and elsewhere.  Research on the cost of visual impairment can use administrative, clinical, or survey data. Administrative data often include a large number of records, identify blindness by coded diagnoses, do not capture paid personal care services not covered by third-party payers, and do not capture the cost of informal care.


Clinical examinations provide an exact measure of visual impairment but likely would result in a limited sample size because of the resources needed for eye examinations or medical records abstraction. Survey data require individuals to self-identify as visually impaired or blind but can ask about many types of costs. To our knowledge, no study to date has used data from a large national survey to calculate the excess expenditures associated with being visually impaired in the United States. This type of data can uniquely provide information on home and informal care costs for which visual impairment likely makes a large difference.


The Medical Expenditure Panel Survey is an overlapping cohort survey that has been administered by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality since 1996. This panel survey allows researchers to study annual health care expenditures and informal care received.


Arch Ophthalmol. 2007;125(4):544-550. doi:10.1001/archopht.125.4.544