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Mon Dec 31, 2012, 02:49 PM

The Case For Death Panels, In One Chart

That per capita health care spending is higher on older people than younger ones will surprise nobody. Nor will it surprise anyone to learn that American health care spending is systematically higher than what you see in other rich countries. But this chart via Austin Frakt and Dan Munro is pretty shocking.

Starting in the mid-fifties, American per capita health care spending goes from marginally higher than Germany or Sweden to a lot higher. Then as Americans reach their late sixties, a large share of that spending is shifted onto the public books as Medicare and the spending gap keeps on rising.

Read Frakt for a bit of an account of how this arises operationally, but what I think is more important is that it arises on a meta-level because we have such a fragmented health care system. When your health care spending is all in one bucket, then at any given level of spending you face a question about how to allocate it. And when allocating spending between young and old, you're cross-pressured. On the one hand, older people have more need for health care services which militates in favor of allocating spending to them. On the other hand, providing health care services to younger people generally offers better value in terms of years of life and quality of life saved. A 25 year-old who's in a bad car accident can, if found in time and treated, still live a very happy and healthy life. If you're 95 and get into the same car accident, then treatment is going to be much more difficult, recovery will be much less complete, and in the grand scheme of things you're not going to live very long anyway.

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.


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Reply The Case For Death Panels, In One Chart (Original post)
Redfairen Dec 2012 OP
enlightenment Dec 2012 #1
djean111 Dec 2012 #2

Response to Redfairen (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 02:56 PM

1. And yet,

on average, life expectancy in the nations listed on that chart is two years more than the US - which suggests that there is something else going on besides writing off the "oldsters".

Perhaps having adequate affordable health CARE (as opposed to health insurance) over the course of their lives means that they reach old age healthier?

I don't think that those countries are setting their elderly out on ice floes - that's an American notion.

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Response to Redfairen (Original post)

Mon Dec 31, 2012, 02:57 PM

2. The comments on Slate pretty much debunk this chart.


For starters, this is government spending. The government doesn't spend much on people under 65, private insurance does.
But this should give ammo to those who don't like seniors to even exist, collecting social security and voting incorrectly and all.

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