The Elderly May Not Be As Taxing As Generally Thought

by Linda Beale

The Elderly May Not Be As Taxing As Generally Thought

One of the common assumptions about health care costs (and the costs of benefit programs like Medicare) has been that the increasing life spans of Americans will result in significantly greater health care expenses.  It is common knowledge that much of the highest cost medical care occurs near the end of life, as the elderly need more medicines and assistance in daily living.  So speculation has suggested that as Americans live longer, health costs will increase correspondingly.

A recent study provides a glimmer of good news–apparently, most of the highest medical care costs occur in the last year of life, even for those that are living longer.  That means that the longer lifespans aren’t translating into more time in intense medical care, but rather more years of generally healthy and active lifestyle followed by a similar duration of end-of-life care.  See Michael Fitzgerald, Old Age May Not Ruin Medicare Budgets After All, (Aug. 22, 2013).

What should that information mean for policy makers?  It seems to support the progressive, social justice goal of ensuring that we have a system for universal health care coverage like “Medicare for all”.  Under democratic egalitarianism, a combination of general revenue support and additional premium payments from those who have the ability to pay provides a means for decent protection of all of our citizens and the creation of a just society.   By asking those with the ability to pay to carry more of the burden, such a system ensures adequacy for all even in times such as ours when there is extraordinary inequality of wealth or income.   Our forebears handled that kind of situation through one-on-one charities, back when communities were much smaller and people knew that they depended on their neighbors for help in tough times, so were willing to help out when they were able.  The modern version of that neighborly compassion is a government that creates safety net programs for all of its people, with public programs in those areas where a profit motive interferes with the creation of adequate, sustainable, just programs for everyone.  Education and health services are clearly two key areas where people acting together through government create fairer and more adequate systems that serve all of the people.

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