Feature

Longer lives won’t cut medical costs

The emphasis on prevention and wellness can lead to longer lives, but it will do nothing to stop the soaring costs of medical care.

Froma Harrop
The Providence Journal

In offering pain-free ways to improve our health-care system, said Froma Harrop, politicians always talk about “wellness” and “prevention.” What better way to save money, they say, than to prevent illness by screening people for cancer and heart disease, and by discouraging smoking and unhealthy eating. Prevention, it’s true, can lead to longer lives—but it will do nothing to stop the soaring cost of medical care. Longer lives, you see, “cost money.” People who survive to 80 or 90 usually become frail, and consume a host of extra CT scans, hip replacements, and other costly procedures. They’re far more likely to get cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. In their last six months of life, the elderly often require acute hospital care, which is enormously expensive. The only way to restrain health-care costs, one expert told me, is to help people live disease-free into their “early old age,” and then die rapidly once they get sick. “Wellness” and “prevention” are good goals, because they can enhance the quality of life. But let’s not deceive ourselves that they “can reduce medical spending over the long haul.”

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