“The implication is that expanding coverage to uninsured near-elderly adults may not cost as much as previously thought,” says J. Michael McWilliams, an Harvard Medical School
(HMS) research associate and practicing general internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “Particularly for those with heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes, earlier access to effective treatments can prevent costly complications and reduce health care needs after age 65.”
Created in 1965, Medicare now covers nearly 43 million elderly and disabled Americans. In 2006, the program’s cost of $374 billion accounted for 14 percent of the federal budget, and federal spending on Medicare is expected to grow to $524 billion by 2011.
In their study the researchers compared previously uninsured to insured adults to see how each group used health services before and after entering Medicare. They followed 5,158 adults who were ages 53 to 61 in 1992 for 12 years. They compared health care use and expenses for 3,773 subjects who were insured and 1,385 who were uninsured before 65.
When the researchers compared these statistically similar groups, the differences due to insurance were clear. “After gaining Medicare coverage at age 65, health care use by previously uninsured adults not only rose to the level of previously insured adults but exceeded it substantially,” says McWilliams. “These greater health care needs persisted at least through age 72.”
These findings were especially noticeable in adults with cardiovascular disease or diabetes, illnesses that can be life-threatening when left untreated, but manageable if caught early.
“Providing health insurance coverage for uninsured near-elderly adults may not only improve their health, but also reduce their annual health care use after age 65,” says McWilliams.
MEDICA.de; Source: Harvard Medical School