ANNAPOLIS – Before she dies, one of every two women gets osteoporosis, as does one of every five men. The disease weakens the bones, leading to an estimated 26,000 fractures in the state every year at a cost of $160 million.
If a bill introduced by Del. Marilyn Goldwater, D- Montgomery, prevented even one percent of these fractures, it would more than pay for itself. But the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene says it can’t afford it.
At a hearing before the House Environmental Matters Committee Wednesday, Goldwater defended the cost of her proposal to develop an outreach and education program.
“The human and fiscal cost of osteoporosis is devastating, and it far outweighs the start-up costs of an education and prevention program,” Goldwater said in an interview.
The Department of Fiscal Services put the cost at $380,000 in fiscal 1997, rising to $525,500 by fiscal 2001.
But Dr. John Southard, director of the Office of Chronic Diseases, said he can’t fund the program without taking money from programs to prevent cancer and cardiovascular diseases.
In Maryland, money for programs that aren’t included in the governor’s budget proposal has to come from some other part of a given agency’s budget.
Del. Leon Billings, D-Montgomery, said Southard was being short sighted. “It’s often said that in America, we know the price of everything, and the value of nothing,” he said. “How can we not afford these kind of [programs]?”
Southard replied, “It’s a matter of priorities.”
Del. Dan Morhaim, D-Baltimore County, a physician who sees many victims of osteoporosis in his practice, said Goldwater’s proposal would eventually save money. A single hip replacement, he said, costs $10,000.
Morhaim said the state could save money even faster if it developed programs to keep people from tripping and falling in the first place.
Nationwide, osteoporosis afflicts 7-8 million people, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, at a cost of $10 billion. Another 17 million have low bone mass, the foundation says. According to Southard, estrogen and other remedies for women who are past menopause can reduce the incidence of fractures by 50 percent. Better diet and exercise during younger years can reduce one’s chances of getting the disease. -30-