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Kids and Allergies: $11 billion spent on allergies doesn’t even touch it

Submitted by on Tuesday, 17 June 2008 No Comment

It’s official now, because the government says so: Allergies are on the rise, with the percentage of American reporting problems increasing from 6.3 in 200 to 7.3 in 2005.

While 7.3 percent might not sound like a lot, consider that that’s 22 billion Americans. And the statistics, released Monday by federal Medical Expenditure Panel survey, cover only airborne allergies.

The pocketbook numbers are even more interesting. Nationally, spending to treat “allergic rhinitis” almost doubled from $6.1 billion in 2000 to $11.2 billion in 2005. Both figures are in 2005 dollars, so you can’t blame inflation. Not that anyone in the government will admit there’s inflation.

Individually — that’s you and me, folks — expenses have gone from $320 per person to $520 per person.

And both figures are way low. The government report looks only at hospital care, doctor’s visits and prescription medications.

Prescription medications? You mean there’s still an insurance company that will cover prescription antihistamines? Mine quit about a year ago, refusing to pay for Zyrtec before it was over the counter even though it worked far better than Claritin for Big Guy.

My insurance company was late to that game, too. Big Guy’s allergist, who’s heavily involved in the local asthma coalition, once told me of a meeting of doctors, insurance companies, hospitals and clinics a few years back, when the insurance companies declared their support for the important mission of insuring better preventative for asthmatics.

“Really?” the doctor asked. “Is that why you won’t cover prescription antihistamines?”

No one had an answer. They still don’t. As a result, so many people with allergies and asthma rely on less-effective medications because that’s all they can afford.

Part of the problem is, it’s so easy for lay people — and I include the insurance company bean counters among them — to dismiss allergies as “just a little hay fever.” I’d love for them to experience just one of the attacks I used to go through prior to 10 years of immunotherapy. My neck muscles would throb the next day from the strain of constant sneezing.

Far fewer lay people — insurance company bean counters included — understand the allergy-asthma link. For that matter, I know asthmatics who don’t get it either.

I suppose the new report is good in that it gives allergy sufferers proof that there’s now greater strength in numbers. I just wish the government statisticians had taken a better stab at nailing down the finances. You think $11 billion is a big number? The real total has to be substantially higher.

Copyright 2008 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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