NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 23, 2006

Obesity and certain chronic conditions were major factors driving virtually all Medicare spending growth for the past 15 years, according to a new analysis of Medicare cost and patient data.

According to economists Kenneth Thorpe and David Howard:

  • In 1987, 11.7 percent of the Medicare population was considered obese, and spending was 9.4 percent of the federal government program's budget.
  • That number grew to 22.5 percent of Medicare enrollees by 2002, and spending jumped to 24.8 percent.

Physicians also are becoming more aggressive in treating patients who have a cluster of cardiovascular-related risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure or low levels of "good" cholesterol, the authors found.

  • Such treatment patterns are good news for seniors because it means many older men and women are living longer.
  • But more elderly Americans living longer also increases the long-term costs of the Medicare program.

Total Medicare expenditures were $336 billion in 2005 and are projected to increase at a rapid clip as the first wave of the 75 million baby boomers reaches retirement age and Medicare eligibility in 2010.

Source: Larry Wheeler, "Obesity, chronic disease drive Medicare costs up," USA Today, August 22, 2006; based upon: Kenneth E. Thorpe and David H. Howard, "The Rise In Spending Among Medicare Beneficiaries: The Role Of Chronic Disease Prevalence

And Changes In Treatment Intensity," Health Affairs, August 22, 2006.

For text (subscription required):

For study text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues