The costs of caring for the elderly have been growing steadily higher. Spending on Medicare benefits accounted for 17 percent of the nation’s total health care spending in 2004. With baby boomers retiring, and Medicare benefits changing, this percentage is expected to grow in the future. Americans spend approximately $140 billion on long-term care in the U.S., most of it on the elderly, and Medicaid picks up almost half of the cost. Even among large private firms, health care costs for older people have taken their toll with only one-third offering health benefits to their retirees today, compared with two-thirds in 1988.
How concerned should we really be with rising health care costs, especially costs connected with the care of older people? Do these continually rising costs merely reflect significant steps forward in quality of care for which society will ultimately be willing to pay? Will new technologies create efficiencies that will dramatically reduce costs, or will technologies raise demand for care and thus drive cost increases? Can we slow down spending trends by focusing on disease prevention to improve the health of the elderly?
These questions and others were addressed at a September 26 luncheon briefing sponsored by the Alliance for Health Reform, the journal Health Affairs and the RAND Corporation. Panelists are: Barry Straube, chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid; Dana Goldman of RAND; and Michael Chernew from the University of Michigan. Health Affairs’ John Iglehart and the Alliance’s Ed Howard moderated this session.
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