Study Suggests Medicare's Outlook May Be Better Than Feared

A new study calls into question the widespread belief that the increasing life expectancy in the United States will require greater Medicare spending.

The study by federal researchers, reported in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, concludes that medical costs are about the same for people who are active at age 70 and live independently for many more years and those who are sickly and die sooner.

National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS) researchers found that a healthy and mobile person at age 70 had a life expectancy of 14.3 more years and would expend about $136,000 over that time in medical costs (in 1998 dollars). A person with at least one limitation in an activity of daily living could be expected to live 11.6 more years and accrue about $145,000 in medical costs.

"Our study shows that current efforts to improve the health of the middle-aged and the younger elderly won''t have an adverse financial effect because people will be longer on Medicare," says lead researcher Dr. James Lubitz of NCHS.

Average life expectancy in this country hit a record 77.2 years in 2001 and there is evidence that health among the elderly is improving. By 2030, the number of Americans 65 or older will reach 71 million, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Based in part on assumptions that longer life costs more, the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the Medicare program, predicts that current Medicare costs will nearly double to $495 billion by 2012 and that the program will be insolvent by 2026.

To read the abstract of the study, go to:

To read an article on the study in the Philadelphia Inquirer, go to: