$26 Billion Cost to Treat Atrial Fibrillation: AHA

The study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, estimated what the lead author calls "a huge economic burden" for the nation.

Treating U.S. patients with atrial fibrillation costs about $26 billion annually, according to a new study published in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. AHA announced it May 3.

The $26 billion breaks down into $6 billion for AF care, $9.9 billion for other cardiovascular risk factors or disease, and $10.1 billion for non-cardio health problems, according to AHA.

"Atrial fibrillation places a huge economic burden on health care payers, patients, and our country," said Dr. Michael H. Kim, MD, lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. "It is not clear that the country realizes that atrial fibrillation patients are much more likely to have cardiovascular hospitalizations specifically, and more hospitalizations in general."

The researchers chose 89,066 AF patients using two databases containing medical records for 38 million people, matched them with a control group of patients without AF, then followed them for 12 months during 2004-2006, beginning with AF hospitalization. Seventy-five percent of the chosen patients were covered by Medicare.

They found AF patients entered hospitals more than twice as often as non-AF patients did and were three times more likely to have multiple hospitalizations. More AF than non-AF patients died in the hospital (2.1 percent vs. 0.1 percent). Total direct health costs averaged $20,670 for the AF group but just $11,965 for the non-AF group.

"We're not going to impact healthcare costs or cardiovascular outcomes by just addressing atrial fibrillation itself," Kim said. "The large amount of cardiovascular disease among atrial fibrillation patients appears to worsen outcomes and increase costs. This is a sicker population." Co-authors are Stephen S. Johnston, MA; Bong-Chul Chu, Ph.D.; Mehul R. Dalal, Ph.D.; and Kathy L. Schulman, MS. Sanofi-Aventis US, Inc. funded the research.

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