The American Heart Association predicts that the cost of medical care for heart disease will rise from $273 billion in 2010 to $818 billion in a policy statement published online today in Circulation.

“We were all surprised at the remarkable increase in costs that are expected in the next two decades,” Paul Heidenriech, MD, chair of the AHA expert panel that issued the statement, said in a press release. “We need to continue to invest resources in the prevention of disease, the treatment of risk factors and early treatment of existing disease to reduce that burden.”

The 16-member expert panel came up with future cost projections using CVD medical cost data from the 2001 to 2005 Medical Expenditure Panel Surveys, disease rates from the 1999 to 2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, and population projections from the 2008 U.S. Census, to adjust for anticipated shifts in age and race. The model assumed that heart disease prevention and treatment strategies will stay the same, and did not double count costs for patients with multiple heart conditions.

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Data indicated that 1-in-3 Americans currently have some form of heart disease, accounting for 17% of national health expenditures. These conditions include elevated BP, coronary heart disease, heart failure and stroke.

The committee projected that by 2030, an additional 27 million people will have hypertension; 8 million, CHD; 4 million, stroke; and 3 million, heart failure. They attributed the majority of the increases to the aging U.S. population.

Hypertension will contribute the greatest to the rising costs, with an estimated $130.4 billion increase, according to the AHA, because it has a higher prevalence than other forms of CVD.

Officials also projected an additional 61% increase in lost-productivity costs, with those figures expected to jump from $172 billion in 2010 to $276 billion in 2030. All together, the projected total cost of CVD is expected to exceed $1 trillion, the committee wrote.

They warned that cost projections did not take into account the growing number of Americans with obesity and diabetes, which could lead to greater increases in CVD. Projected shortages in primary care providers, pharmacists and nurses could also negatively affect patient care.

“Unhealthy behaviors and unhealthy environments have contributed to a tidal wave of risk factors among many Americans,” AHA CEO Nancy Brown said in a press release. “Early intervention and evidence-based public policies are absolute musts to significantly reduce alarming rates of obesity, hypertension, tobacco use and cholesterol levels.”

“As our nation debates health care reform policies, we must realize that a variety of policy- and practice-related measures will be necessary to affect real change in the health care system,” committee members wrote. They added that combined efforts to improve risk factor prevention and treatment may reduce the “dire” economic and health projections associated with CVD increases.