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Oct 04, 2018

Financial Incentives for Controlling High Cholesterol: Are They Worth It?

Incentives that encourage better management of high cholesterol appear cost-effective, based on expert models.


Money talks, especially when it comes to health, based on a recent study that explored the value of financial incentives for controlling high cholesterol. Findings were published in JAMA Network Open and estimate that it costs $60,000 for each quality year added to patients’ lives.

The study included data from a large clinical trial that tested the use of incentives for cholesterol control. The trial included 1,503 U.S. adults with high cholesterol, all of who were randomly assigned to various treatment groups over a 15-month period. The trial tested incentives for patients only, physicians only, and a combination of shared incentives for patients and physicians.

The goal of the study was to see whether incentives resulted in lower cholesterol levels, which they did. However, the recent analysis looked at whether these incentives would be worth it when applied to the U.S. population.

Based on a model for simulating health care costs, researchers found that shared incentives between physicians and patients would cost $60,000 for each quality year gained by patients. That’s because the extra money spent on managing high cholesterol helps keep patients healthy and out of the hospital. The prevention of complications leads to better health outcomes and quality of life.

While $60,000 per year may sound like a high price to pay, authors note that anything under $100,000 per quality year gained is generally considered to be a reasonable trade-off.

Of course, authors note that findings are based on many assumptions and provide only an estimate of cost. Researchers also explain that this cost to benefit ratio changes over time, especially as patients grow older.

Findings suggest that each quality life year added with incentives become increasingly expensive over time. After eight years, incentives may not be considered as cost-effective as they are during the first few years.

Still, authors are encouraged by findings. High cholesterol currently affects an estimated 33% of U.S. adults, and only one in three have their condition under control. Left untreated, high cholesterol increases risk for heart disease and life-threatening heart events.

Fortunately, proper treatment can greatly improve outcomes and overall health. It’s possible that incentives may be one useful way to help patients take control of their health and manage high cholesterol.

With additional research, experts hope to further explore the potential costs and benefits of such programs. They also hope to track changes over time to determine how long incentive programs remain cost-effective in patients with high cholesterol.


Questions for You to Consider

  • At what age should I worry about my cholesterol?
  • More than one-third of Americans have high cholesterol and risk for high cholesterol increases with age. However, high cholesterol can be a problem at any age. It’s estimated that 22% of adults in their 20s have high cholesterol and 62% of adults in their 50s have high cholesterol. It’s important to have cholesterol checked regularly and make healthy lifestyle choices like eating healthy and staying active, which help control cholesterol levels.
  • What are the risks associated with high cholesterol?
  • High cholesterol can cause atherosclerosis, the build-up of plaque on artery walls. This accumulation of deposits can cause serious complications, such as chest painheart attack and stroke. High cholesterol is largely preventable and treatable, so getting screened and making healthy lifestyle choices can go a long way in controlling cholesterol levels.

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