Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Living longer… and paying for it

Who doesn’t want to live longer?

A new study by the MacArthur Research Network on an Aging Society states that: “the current forecasts of the US Social Security Administration and US Census Bureau may underestimate the rise in life expectancy at birth for men and women combined, by 2050, from 3.1 to 7.9 years.”  Here’s the link (click here).  According to the authors, the key conclusion is that: “The cumulative outlays for Medicare and Social Security could be higher by $3.2 to $8.3 trillion relative to current government forecasts.”

BNET’s take on this?

And that’s only the beginning. With anticipated scientific breakthroughs in coming decades, people could eventually live to 150 years of age, says Dr. Steven Joyal, an official of the Life Extension Foundation (LEF), a nonprofit organization that promotes research on how we can live longer and healthier. The MacArthur paper, in fact, says that some experts believe the average life expectancy could hit 100 by 2060.

What’s more, Joyal tells BNET, the conquest of disease and the slowing of the aging process will lead to a sharp decline in disability, allowing people of advanced age to function as well as they did when they were much younger. “In other words, a 90-year-old person could have the same mental and physical capacity as somebody 40 or 50 years old.”

Good news.  But, the current health reform debate began on the note of not only trying to expand coverage for the uninsured but also with a goal of reigning in escalating health care costs.  The culminating House and Senate versions are long on increasing coverage but fairly short on managing costs.  There is movement in the right direction (e.g., quality based reimbursements and the formation of “accountable care organizations”), but health reform, in reality, turned into health insurance reform.

In the current debate about affordability, which has moved into the background as senators re-strategize during the holiday break, if cost estimates are underestimated for the reasons noted above, then the question of affordability ought not remain in the background.

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