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Rising health expenses are a good value, researchers say

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- Despite dramatic increases in health expenses since 1960, the return on medical spending is high, according to a new study by researchers at Harvard University and the University of Michigan. Studying health and spending trends from 1960 to 2000, the researchers concluded that healthcare in America has been cost-effective on the whole, although ballooning costs for the elderly are a cause for concern.

In an article published in the Aug. 31 New England Journal of Medicine, David M. Cutler, the Otto Eckstein Professor of Applied Economics in Harvard's Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and Allison B. Rosen and Sandeep Vijan of the University of Michigan Health System compared average per-capita spending and life expectancy of four different age groups from 1960 to 2000, analyzing increases in medical expenses versus improvements in health.

"The rising cost of healthcare has been the source of a lot of saber-rattling in the media and the public square, without anyone seriously analyzing and discussing the benefits gained," says Cutler. "But the dramatic increase in life expectancy that we've seen over the last decades shows that rising medical costs have been largely justified."

Conservatively adjusting for non-medical factors in longevity such as lower smoking prevalence and reduced death rates from accidents, suicide, and homicide, the researchers attributed 50 percent of the increase in life expectancy since 1960 to improved healthcare.

Following this methodology, Cutler and colleagues estimated that from birth, the increased life expectancy since 1960 -- approximately seven years, from 69.90 to 76.87 years -- has cost $19,900 per added year of life. Of the portion of this longevity gain attributed to improvements in healthcare, the researchers estimated that some 70 percent was due to reductions in deaths from cardiovascular disease, while reductions in infant mortality accounted for 19 percent.

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Contact: Steve Bradt
steve_bradt@harvard.edu
617-496-8070
Harvard University
30-Aug-2006


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