Economic Interests and Lost Productivity

Writing to you from the Texas Book Festival in Austin.

The post on the Birth of the Perpetual Fundraising Industry prompted Anna, diagnosed with breast cancer at age 33, to ask a vital question. She writes:

“The vested interests in my continuing decline in health are staggering and frightening.

But if we’re talking about this from a economic perspective, here is my question. If all the people afflicted with breast (and other) cancers were magically cured, with no further treatment required, and were able to fully recover enough to go back to full-time work, would the commensurate increase in individual wealth, federal/state income taxes and the country’s overall productivity be enough to more than offset the loss of the pink profit centers for the corporates and health care industrials?

If the answer is yes then we might have a chance at getting somewhere in the fight to eradicate cancer for good. Are there any economic studies out there that you know of that address this question?”

We need some economists to study this question. However, there is some information that speaks to the issue.

According to a Cancer Trends Progress Report from the National Cancer Institute, breast cancer care in 2006 cost Americans $13.9 billion, and cost the country $12.1 billion (more than any other cancer).

In 2005, lost productivity due to cancer deaths was calculated to be $36 billion for lung cancer, $12.1 billion for breast cancer, and $10.7 billion for colon and rectal cancer.

According to the report, “using earnings to value lost productivity due to premature cancer deaths in the United States, mortality costs associated with an approximately 600,000 cancer deaths in 2005 are estimated to be $134.8 billion.”

And, this is lost productivity only due to deaths. There is no information in the report about time out of work for treatment and recovery.

In comparison, the National Institute of Health spends about $700 million per year on breast cancer research. And the Department of Defense Breast Cancer Research Program has allocated about $2.5 billion to peer-reviewed research since 1992.

Is the overall loss of productivity enough to offset the loss of the pink profit centers? It might be a close call.

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2 comments to Economic Interests

  • And, this is lost productivity only due to deaths. There is no information in the report about time out of work for treatment and recovery.

    A complete calculation of lost productivity should also include time out of work by friends and family members who help the person with cancer with such tasks as transportation to chemotherapy treatments and childcare during said treatments (or while coping with nausea and fatigue induced by treatments), and so on.

  • To me this evidence alone, only reinforces the point that we need to stop with the color coded ribbons and popularity contests, and see the eradication of cancer as an integrated effort immune to the power of corporate greed and powerful lobbyists. For the good of the country, fighting cancer should not be a for-profit business !

"women urged to get screened because it might save their lives. But that’s only 1 possible outcome, and it’s the least likely one" @cragcrest

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