Medical costs of people who are healthy at age 70 and live independently for many more years are about the same as for those who face illness and die sooner, according to a study in today's New England Journal of Medicine. The findings are important because they suggest that the outlook for the federal Medicare program is not as dire as some policymakers have feared. HHS has forecast a rising tide of costs -- leading to the bankruptcy of the Medicare trust fund by 2026 -- as aging baby boomers swell the ranks of the elderly. But the study, which examined the medical records and payments of 17,000 elderly people from 1992 to 1998, concluded that those who reach 70 in healthy condition have a life expectancy of 14.3 years, over which they would run up a total average healthcare bill of $136,000 in 1998 dollars. Septuagenarians suffering from one or more health problems had a life expectancy of 11.6 years and would accumulate expenditures of about $145,000. Read the study. -- by Laura B. Benko
Healthcare costs of old age may be less than feared
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