Study: Aging boomers won’t boost health-care costs as much as predicted

Baby boomers will increase Medicare and other medical expenditures as they age but not nearly as much as some analysts have feared, according to a new study. The study, which appears in the January issue of the Journal of Gerontology, suggests that by living longer, many baby boomers will pass the ages at which the most “heroic,” and hence expensive, efforts are made to prolong their lives. Once members of that generation survive into their mid-80s or so and beyond, many medical procedures will become too risky for their older bodies and will be avoided in many cases.From the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill :Study: old age won’t boost health-care costs as much as some have predicted

Baby boomers will increase Medicare and other medical expenditures as they age but not nearly as much as some analysts have feared, according to a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study.
The study, which appears in the January issue of the Journal of Gerontology, suggests that by living longer, many baby boomers will pass the ages at which the most “heroic,” and hence expensive, efforts are made to prolong their lives.

Once members of that generation survive into their mid-80s or so and beyond, many medical procedures will become too risky for their older bodies and will be avoided in many cases, the UNC School of Public Health researchers say. The result of living longer will yield because many will not get sick at ages when costly surgeries and other invasive treatments are still reasonable possibilities.

Authors of the report are public health doctoral student Zhou Yang and Drs. Edward C. Norton and Sally C. Stearns, both associate professors of health policy and administration.

“As people age, it’s only natural that health-care costs go up,” Norton said. “We found, for example, that nursing home expenditures are highly correlated with age, as one would expect, and the probability of going to a nursing home rises steadily with advancing years. Except near the end of life, the costs of inpatient care rise only slightly over time, however.”

On the other hand, if one is relatively young during the last two years of life, much steeper rises in health-related costs occur because doctors and others try so much harder to save lives, he said.

“In contrast, when we looked at expenditures for people in their 90s, say, we saw higher costs ? largely due to nursing home care — but the cost run-up was not nearly as high for medical treatment,” Norton said.

The research involved detailed analysis of monthly data on 25,954 elderly people from the federally funded 1992-1998 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey cost and use files. Information on both people who died and those who survived illnesses was examined to gauge cost trends over time.

Overall, the average monthly health-care expenditure per person in 1998 dollars was about $720, of which Medicare paid $429. Among those who died, the cost was about $3,170 monthly, while those who survived incurred about $590 in health expenses.

In the month before death, the cost for people aged 65 to 74 averaged about $7,580, while the cost for those 85 and older was $5,254, the analyses showed.

“Our results offers good news in terms of future expenditures being less burdensome than previously thought,” Stearns said. “At the same time, we need to be cautious about predicting the future of health-care expenses since technological changes will occur in drugs, surgery and high-tech equipment. While those advances are good, they are going to cost money that we can’t estimate yet.”

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