Wow

12.31.12

American Exceptionalism: Healthcare Spending on the Elderly

Paul Fischbeck/Mark Roth/Dan Munro ()

Austin Frakt says this chart "dilated my pupils:"

What happens to Americans when they turn 55? Don’t blame Medicare. It doesn’t kick in until age 65. My guess is that at 55+, people tend to initiate health care episodes (visit doctors) more. You see evidence of that in all countries depicted. But, in the U.S. much more so than elsewhere, once you check in, more stuff is done to you or for you. More tests. More return visits. More intensive end of life care. Let’s face it, more unnecessary procedures. I call it “clinical capture.”

Meanwhile, the never callous Yglesias describes it as a case for death panels.

In all countries, the majority of health care spending goes to the older half of the population distribution in deference to the greater demand for health care services among the elderly. But the less unified, less planned American system takes this to the extreme. To an extent, this reflects what people want. The "death panels" charge was a potent one for a reason. But not only is this health care spending on the elderly the key issue in the federal budget, our disproportionate allocation of health care dollars to old people surely accounts for the remarkable lack of apparent cost effectiveness of the American health care system. When the patient is already over 80, the simple fact of the matter is that no amount of treatment is going to work miracles in terms of life expectancy or quality of life.