NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 6, 2006

Eliminating chronic diseases will not reduce Medicare expenditures, but obesity might be the exception, according to economists and physicians from the RAND Corporation and the Veterans Affairs Greater Los Angeles Healthcare System.

Analyzing a sample of about 10,000 Medicare beneficiaries age 65 and older, they suggest that eliminating any one disease will not dramatically affect future health care costs. This is because the chronically ill are responsible for higher Medicare costs, but do not live as long as beneficiaries without chronic illness. If obesity is an exception to this rule, combating it could have important implications for Medicare since close to half of the U.S. population is overweight.

  • Obesity is a "double whammy" for Medicare, because it raises annual health care spending but does not affect longevity and thus the number of years spent in the Medicare system.
  • Obese 70-year-olds can expect only four disability-free years and will spend 40 percent more time disabled than their normal-weight counterparts, who can expect nearly seven years without disability.
  • Starting at age 70, an obese person will cost Medicare about $149,000; Medicare spending on an obese person is 20 percent higher than for the overweight, and 35 percent higher than spending on a normal person.

The researchers conclude that Medicare could experience a considerable financial burden from the increase in obesity nationwide, spending about $38,000 more over the lifetime of an obese 70-year-old than it will spend on a beneficiary of similar age and normal weight. However, the researchers argue that the effects of disability from obesity, rather than increased spending, might be the more important component of the social burden of obesity.

Source: Research Highlights, "Future Health and Medical Care Spending of the Elderly: Implications for Medicare," Rand Corporation, September 2005.

For text:


Browse more articles on Health Issues