Healthy lifestyle habits linked to lower drug costs

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People with cardiovascular disease who exercise regularly, don't smoke, and manage other risk factors spend far less money on medications than people who don't take such steps, a new study finds.

The study included 4,248 people ages 40 and older with clogged arteries (atherosclerosis), the most common form of cardiovascular disease. Researchers also relied on the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, a national snapshot of health care expenses based on a survey of nearly 76,000 Americans.

They found that people with none or just one of six modifiable risk factors (inactivity, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol, elevated blood pressure, or diabetes) tallied an average of $1,400 on medications each year. In contrast, people with four or more risk factors racked up an average of $4,516 in medication costs per year. Medication costs included both the patients' out-of-pocket fees, such as copays, and the costs covered by insurance.

Nationwide, treating people with heart disease and stroke costs about $284 billion per year. Medications account for more than a quarter of that cost, according to the report, which appeared in the June 9, 2017, Journal of the American Heart Association.