With rising rates of acid reflux and heartburn occurring around the world, just how badly is heartburn hurting our economy? A lot more than you would think, and in this article, you will find out how much acid reflux is estimated to cost both employers and employees.
Cost of Heartburn To the Average Person
The amount that heartburn can cost the average person is staggering. One common measure used to determine how much a disease costs a person is quality-adjusted life-year (QALY). This measure multiples the years a person lives by a factor from 0 to 1 in order to determine how much the disease has affected them.
To clarify, imagine that your life was perfect (normally a score of “1″), but due to suffering from heartburn your life is a little less than perfect (say a 9/10, or “.9″). If you were going to live 30 more years, then you would multiple .9 by 30 to get 27. In short, heartburn reduced your quality of life enough to essentially cost you “3 years” of time.
While this is not a perfect measure, it does allow us to apply a monetary value towards pain and suffering. This also allows us to compare people of different levels of pain and suffering; for example, a cancer patient going through chemo might not be bothered as much by reflux as an otherwise healthy adult.
Once recent research group found that by simply using a proton-pump inhibitor, people were able to save $10,400 per QALY (1). In other words, heartburn was costing people enough in pain and suffering that despite the costs of a proton-pump inhibitor, their lives and productivity was enriched to the point where they were saving over $10,000 a year.
This occurs in spite of the fact that prescription heartburn medications cost a lot of money. If you have no insurance, you could pay up to 200$ a month for Nexium, one of the most popular heartburn medications. That price tag certainly makes these heartburn remedies quite appealing! This also occurs in spite of the fact that even the most favourable studies have reported no more than three-fourths of patients suffering from acid reflux get significant relief from medication (2).
If you do the math, if a person takes a $200/month prescription over a 20 year period, this adds up to $57,600. While you may think that this does not affect you if you have an insurance policy, be assured this money does not simply come out of thin air; insurance premiums in the United States are rapidly rising and becoming so expensive due to the common usage of incredibly expensive medications. The burden of using medications and over a healthy acid reflux diet is ultimately paid for by everyone in rising insurance premiums.
Cost of Heartburn for Employers
Perhaps the most thorough study on the cost of heartburn (particularly nighttime heartburn) to employers was done in 2005. The group found that nighttime heartburn cost employers in the United States alone approximately 1.9 billion dollars (3).
The researchers reported that the average person suffering from nighttime heartburn lost 16 work-hours per week due to decreased productivity as a result of poor sleep quality (3). Considering the average pay at the time in the USA was about 25$ an hour, companies were spending hundreds of dollars per week extra on employees who were not performing due to not being able to sleep well at night.
This adds up to over $100 billion dollars a year in lost productivity, which has no doubt increased since the time of the study.
Cost of Heartburn Conclusion
Overall, the cost of the heartburn is quite shocking. In untreated individuals, the cost of heartburn is considered to be over $10,000 per year in terms of lost quality of life (1). In terms of out of pocket costs, some of the premium heartburn prescriptions can run almost $2,500 a year for the uninsured, leading to a burden of over $50,000 across a 20-year period. American businesses lose $100 billion annually on lost productivity due to workers not performing as a result of sleep lost due to nighttime heartburn (3).
1. Heudebert, GR., et al. What Is Heartburn Worth? A Cost-Utility Analysis of Management Strategies. J Gen Intern Med. 2000 March; 15(3): 175–182.
2. Chen CY, Lu CL, Luo JC, Chang FY, Lee SD, Lai YL. Esomeprazole tablet vs omeprazole capsule in treating erosive esophagitis. World J Gastroenterol. 2005 May 28;11(20):3112-7.
3. Johnson, DA., et al. Effect of esomeprazole on nighttime heartburn and sleep quality in patients with GERD: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Sep;100(9):1914-22.