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Aging Boomers' Medical Costs May Be Less Than Thought

Death in old age doesn't include expensive procedures, study finds

MONDAY, Jan. 6, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- While budget analysts fret over the anticipated costs to Medicare and the medical system for caring for aging baby boomers, one new study suggests that growing older may not be nearly as expensive as once thought.

Researchers with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say that by the time baby boomers grow into their 80s, they will have passed the age of being considered for costly life-saving medical procedures.

In addition, while nursing home expenditures do indeed increase with age, the increase tends to slow near the end of life, when increases in inpatient care rise only slightly.

Comparatively, expenses involved in caring for a younger person during, for instance, what will be the last two years of their life, are much greater because so many more expensive and risky efforts are made to try to save the patient's life, says the study.

The findings come from a look at trends in the costs of caring for the elderly, found in data on 25,954 elderly people from the federally funded 1992-1998 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey.

The researchers found that, overall, the average monthly health-care expenditure per person in 1998 dollars was about $720, of which Medicare paid $429.

Among those who died, the cost was about $3,170 monthly, whereas those who survived incurred about $590 in health expenses.

Significantly, the figures showed that in the month before death, the cost for people aged 65 to 74 averaged about $7,580, but the cost for those 85 and older was lower -- about $5,254.

The researchers conclude the figures are an encouraging sign that medical costs incurred by the elderly may not increase at the rate some have feared. However, they caution that the potential costs of technological advances and new drugs make predicting health-care expenses a very tricky business.

The study appears in the January issue of the Journal of Gerontology.

More information

Here's extensive health information from the National Institute on Aging.

SOURCE: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, news release, Jan. 6, 2003
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