NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Will Healthier Seniors Save Medicare?

October 21, 1999

Some health researchers say too little attention is being paid to the potential impact on Medicare of medical breakthroughs and innovations -- both current and prospective. While people are living longer, the aged are also healthier than were their peers in preceding generations. That should mean fewer expensive treatments billed to Medicare as baby-boomers move into old age through the year 2028 -- the peak year for baby-boomers in Medicare.

  • Frank Williams, professor of medicine at the University of Rochester, believes that older people will have a longer "health span" and typically experience only brief illnesses before death -- rather than years of costly, chronic disability.
  • In fact, even in the past decade the rate of disability among the elderly has been falling nearly three times as fast as it did during the previous eight decades, according to Duke University aging expert Kenneth Manton.
  • If that rate of decline continues, the number of disabled elderly in 2028 will be 40 percent less than without the decline.

Here are a few examples of how medical advances will bring costs down:

  • One-third of all stroke sufferers are permanently disabled and the lifetime cost of their care is $100,000 -- but treatment with anticoagulants of those at risk costs just $1,095 a year, and new rejuvenating medications are being developed which can be administered to victims 24 hours after a stroke.
  • New medications are being developed to delay the onset of cardiovascular disease -- which, if delayed by an average of five years, would save Medicare an estimated $69 billion annually, equal to almost one-third of its current budget.
  • Experts predict an avalanche of information when the Human Genome project is completed in 2003 -- leading to an explosion of new therapies.
  • Enormous savings could be possible from applying genetic therapy to those at risk for Alzheimer's disease, medical researchers predict.

Source: Betsy McCaughey Ross (Hudson Institute), "How to Beat the High Cost of Aging," Wall Street Journal, October 21, 1999.


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