A report released last month by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM) attempts to estimate the cost of undiagnosed sleep apnea to the US economy every year. The figure they come up with is significant, nearly $150 billion every year. But the AASM points out that the costs can be radically slashed if we just diagnose and treat those with sleep apnea. The potential savings: $100 billion a year.
The sheer magnitude of those savings flies in the face of people who object to the rising cost of sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment. Although sleep apnea treatment may cost more, the savings are still greater.
Estimating the Cost of Undiagnosed Sleep Apnea
The AASM hired consulting firm Frost & Sullivan to prepare the white paper “Hidden Health Crisis Costing America Billions.” It is not a scientific paper, and its figures shouldn’t be taken as too firm, but they give us a round figure to use when we talk about the societal costs of sleep apnea.
They used a common figure, that 80% of people with sleep apnea are undiagnosed, giving them a figure of 23.5 million Americans. They then added up various costs associated with undiagnosed and untreated sleep apnea, about $6366 per year per person with undiagnosed sleep apnea.
Lost productivity associated with poor sleep was the largest category of costs. Lack of drive, inability to focus, poor memory, daytime sleepiness, and other effects of sleep apnea cause people to work less effectively, costing the economy an estimated $86.9 billion of the cost, about 58%.
Sleep apnea also costs the economy because it’s associated with many serious health conditions, such as diabetes, heart problems, stroke, depression, and more. That adds $30 billion to the cost, or about 20% of the total. Another 18% of the cost, $26.2 billion, is from traffic accidents.
As a side effect of daytime sleepiness and ancillary to lost productivity is an increased risk of workplace accidents. People with untreated sleep apnea may have twice or three times the risk of workplace accidents. Even so, workplace accidents account for a relatively small portion of the total, $6.5 billion or about 4%.
Treatment Is Comparatively Cheap
The report then notes that, based on the costs of treating people with sleep apnea, we could potentially save about ? of that cost. Sleep apnea treatment would likely cost about $2100 a year per person with sleep apnea, a total of $12.4 billion per year.
This includes a total of $0.8 billion for diagnosis, $6.2 billion for nonsurgical sleep apnea treatment, and $5.4 billion in surgical treatment.
So Why Aren’t People Getting Diagnosed?
But with so many cost and health benefits, why aren’t more people getting their sleep apnea diagnosed? This report also explained the four major obstacles that prevent people from getting their sleep apnea diagnosed.
Many people still don’t know about sleep apnea. They tend to imagine that their snoring is just a minor nuisance that doesn’t require serious medical attention.
And many doctors don’t understand the seriousness of sleep apnea, either. Instead of recognizing sleep apnea, they may misdiagnose it as low testosterone or hypothyroidism, or to miss symptoms in women going through menopause.
Cost can also be a barrier. Even though there is a significant cost savings down the line, the initial investment in sleep apnea diagnosis and treatment may seem high. This is the main reason why truckers and trucking companies oppose requirements for sleep apnea testing and treatment.
But insurance companies have also not figured out how to work out their cost structures yet. Preventive treatment of chronic illness is often priced and paid for in ways that shifts the burden primarily on the sufferer, while the benefits accrue primarily to the payer.
The hope is that we will restructure our approach to this illness to allow us to account for the costs and savings.
If you are looking to save costs and potentially your life with comfortable, convenient oral appliance treatment for sleep apnea in San Diego, please call (619) 299-5925 today for an appointment with a sleep dentist at Strober Dental.