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Costs of illness among older adults: An analysis of six major health conditions with significant environmental risk factors


Van Houtven, G., Honeycutt, A., Gilman, B., McCall, N., Throneburg, W., & Sykes, K. (2008). Costs of illness among older adults: An analysis of six major health conditions with significant environmental risk factors. (RTI Press Publication No. RR-0002-0809). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press. DOI: 10.3768/rtipress.2008.rr.0002.0809


This study estimates the cost burden associated with six major illnesses among Americans age 65 or older: chronic lung disease, ischemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer, pneumonia, and gastrointestinal illness. These illnesses were selected because of their relatively high impact among older populations and because they include environmental exposures as a significant risk factor. A prevalence-based cost-of-illness approach was applied. Medical costs were estimated from Medicare claims data in 2000. Productivity losses were estimated through regression analyses of National Health Interview Survey data and using age-specific earnings and household production estimates. Estimated costs range from $0.5 billion (gastrointestinal illness) to almost $60 billion (ischemic heart disease). The combined costs of these conditions among the 65-or-older population in 2000 were almost $135 billion. A simple extrapolation of these cost estimates based on population growth and increases in average medical care prices since 2000 implies that the comparable costs in 2007 were more than $196 billion. With the expectation that these costs will continue to increase significantly as the population ages, priority should be given to prevention strategies such as environmental quality improvements.

Author Details

George Van Houtven

George Van Houtven, PhD, is a senior environmental economist at RTI International in Research Triangle Park, NC.

Amanda Honeycutt

Amanda Honeycutt, PhD, is a senior economist at RTI International who telecommutes from Charleston, SC.

Boyd Gilman

Boyd Gilman, PhD, is a Senior Researcher at Mathematica Policy Research, Inc. in Cambridge, MA.

Nancy McCall

Nancy McCall, ScD, SM, BS, RN, is a Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research.

Wanda Throneburg

Wanda W. Throneburg, BS, is a senior risk analyst at Wachovia in Charlotte, NC.

Kathy Sykes

Kathy Sykes, MA, is the senior advisor of the US EPA’s Aging Initiative in Washington, DC.