The costs and complexity of emphysema treatment

By Treven Pyles

Posted on June 04th, 2020

For the millions of Americans living with emphysema, each shortened breath, cough, and wheeze is a reminder of this devastating lung disease. The lifetime cost of emphysema is substantial and many patients are left in serious financial difficulty and, more worrying still, facing a reduced quality of life.

Emphysema involves the loss of elasticity and enlargement of the air sacs of the lungs. This can make breathing difficult and ultimately decrease the amount of oxygen you get into your bloodstream. The cause of emphysema - the lung disorder that can leave people breathless, fatigued, and struggling for each breath, is usually long-term exposure to airborne irritants like asbestos that damage the lungs and the airways.

The disease impacts not only patients but caregivers as well. Pulmonary rehabilitation and long-term oxygen therapy are widely accepted as therapies, and may positively impact the long-term management of emphysema patients, but they can have lasting negative economic consequences.

For the millions of Americans diagnosed with emphysema each year, the cost of treating the disease can be staggering

In emphysema, the damage to the lung tissue is irreversible, however, the following treatments are available to manage symptoms and prevent further damage:

  • Anti-inflammatory medications - Corticosteroids and bronchodilators are medications that relax the bronchial muscles and improve airflow. Some popular oral and inhaled medications - which combine a bronchodilator with a corticosteroid typically cost between $300 and $400 per prescription.
  • Oxygen therapy - In association with other therapies, oxygen treatment is also capable of stopping or usefully delaying the disease's progression. The total annual cost of respiratory care for a patient with emphysema receiving long-term oxygen therapy amounted to $12,000. Oxygen therapy represented 70% of the total ambulatory cost.
  • Pulmonary rehabilitation - Pulmonary rehabilitation is an established treatment for patients with chronic obstructive lung diseases like emphysema. Both duration and location may profoundly affect the costs of pulmonary rehabilitation. So far, pulmonary rehabilitation has been demonstrated to be a cost-effective treatment in emphysema patients, providing a quality-adjusted life-years gain ranging from 0.05 to 0.1. The total cost of the service has been estimated at between $300 - $600 per patient.

The costs associated with emphysema rise dramatically as the disease worsens

Some patients with emphysema may qualify for surgery to reduce lung volume. Lung volume reduction surgery is a costly procedure that has been shown to help improve breathing ability, lung capacity, and overall quality of life. Also, for the severely ill patients with emphysema, a lung transplant is an effective treatment. The cost of lung transplant is too much of a burden for one to handle, because there are several different types of medical and non-medical costs associated with the transplant process including pre-transplant evaluation and testing, surgery, follow-up care and rehabilitation, lodging and travel expenses if you must relocate near the transplant center, childcare, and lost wages.

Surgical treatments - Lung Volume Reduction Surgery (LVRS) - Estimated average total cost - $97,760

Lung transplant - The typical cost of a lung transplant and follow-up care is $500,000-$800,000, depending on whether the procedure involves one or both lungs. Patients must purchase a home spirometer to monitor your lung function pre- and post-transplant and the average price of a good spirometer is about $2000.

The true extent to which patients diagnosed with emphysema experience a decrease in their overall level of savings and face a future of financial uncertainty

The financial burden associated with healthcare costs is relatively high for U.S. patients with emphysema. A survey published in the peer-reviewed BMC Public Health Journal, reveals that:

    • On average, patients diagnosed with a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as emphysema, lose around $1,800 of their income each year as a direct result of their condition. This equates to a lifetime loss of nearly $20,000.
    • The impact of emphysema on people's earning power and overall income makes them concerned about its impact on their lives, and those of their families, and therefore their ability to maintain the same lifestyle as they had before.
    • Nearly 1 in 5 of 45-67-year-olds with emphysema are forced to retire prematurely due to their condition, thereby incurring increased healthcare utilization costs, reducing personal tax and pension contributions, and increasing government disability costs.

Emphysema patients have a higher risk of developing lung cancer

Some emphysema patients are unaware of their higher risk of lung cancer. Inhaled asbestos fibers significantly damage the lungs and the damage gets progressively worse with time.

The researchers found that emphysema and lung cancer have common origins in inflammation and also may share some of the same genetics and environmental risk factors since not everyone who develops lung cancer smokes.

Patients with emphysema have a lung cancer incidence that's four times higher than for the general population.

Thus, early detection of lung cancer-related symptoms can be essential for survival in this group, but patients often confuse potential cancer signs with emphysema symptoms.

In addition to the considerable morbidity and mortality associated with lung cancer, this disease incurs significant healthcare costs, which is why most patients with emphysema should be motivated to seek help when symptom changes occur.

We help victims of asbestos exposure gain compensation to pay for treatment costs, as well as lost income for their families

Financial stress decreases the patients' quality of life by creating difficulty in affording treatment, and/or rapidly depleting savings and resources. Although help often is available for emphysema patients who face financial stress, many do not know whom to ask or where to look. It's important that patients know they can discuss their financial and legal aspects with a trustworthy asbestos law specialist who will explain all available options for filing a claim for compensation.

If you had been employed by industries that handled asbestos or its products during the past century and have received a diagnosis of emphysema, you may be eligible to file a claim with the asbestos trust funds. We can also help you get an asbestos claim approved with the VA if you got a diagnostic of emphysema and a history of military asbestos exposure.

Finding an experienced lawyer can make the process simple and allow you or your loved one to put the main focus on your health, while also knowing that their financial solutions are in capable hands. At Environmental Litigation Group P.C., we specialize in helping people that have been impacted by the effects of asbestos-related diseases. Contact our offices to learn more about your legal rights.