Blame Technology, Not Longer Life Spans, for Health Spending Increases

  • 2017-01-23
  • The New York Times

American life spans are rising, and as they are, health care spending is, too. But longevity is not contributing to the spending increase as much as you might think.

The median age in the United States will rise to about 40 by 2040, up from 37.7 today. That’s partly because the average American lives three years longer today — reaching nearly 79 years old — than in 1995. The Congressional Budget Office credits population aging for a substantial portion of its projected increase in health care spending — from 5.5 percent of the economy today to almost 9 percent by 2046.

But research suggests that living longer, by itself, isn’t a big driver of rising health care spending. Because the baby boom generation is so large — members of which are now in their 50s to late 60s — the average age of Americans would rise even if life expectancy didn’t. For every 100 working-age American today, there are about 25 Americans over 65. By 2040 there will be 37.

Older people need more health care, and they spend more. Compared with the working-age population (people 19 to 64 years old), those 65 to 74 spend two times as much; those 75 to 84 spend four times as much; and those 85 and older spend six times as much. And the growth in health care spending is faster for retirees than for younger Americans.