Why Medicare costs are so high

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Feb 18, 2010
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Why Medicare costs are so high

Nancy Marshall-Genzer Feb 18, 2010
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TEXT OF STORY

Kai Ryssdal: Health care will reappear on the national agenda next week. President Obama’s going to convene a summit with congressional leaders to try and move things forward. The cost of Medicare is sure to come up at some point, which means a study today by Health Affairs could not have come at a more opportune time.

Marketplace’s Nancy Marshall Genzer reports.


Nancy Marshall Genzer: Researchers at Emory University say they’ve learned what’s behind Medicare’s ballooning costs. They looked at Medicare expenditures over 20 years. In 1987, hospital care was driving Medicare costs up. Today, it’s outpatient treatment for seniors with chronic diseases, like diabetes and high blood pressure. Both linked to obesity.

LYDIA OGDEN: We have talked about it in the past as a hidden fat tax.

Lydia Ogden is a health policy analyst at Emory who co-authored the study.

OGDEN: Because what people don’t realize is they’re paying for this in the form of higher spending in publicly-financed programs.

Emory professor Kenneth Thorpe was the study’s primary author. He says if we can keep obesity rates from rising over the next decade, Medicare can save a lot of money.

KENNETH THORPE: We can probably spend about 10 percent less in the Medicare program 10 years from now, but that means we gotta start today.

And by start, he means, get off the couch and yes, diet. Lydia Ogden says Medicare should start paying for tailored weight loss programs for people in their 50s who are overweight, and on the verge of diabetes or heart disease.

OGDEN: It’s not enough to tell people that they shouldn’t have that cheeseburger. What does work is saying, Mrs. Jones, here’s your health profile. And these are the small steps that you can take.

Ogden says the reasons for Medicare’s soaring costs have changed drastically. And Medicare needs to change, too, for its financial health and the health of older Americans.

In Washington, I’m Nancy Marshall Genzer for Marketplace.

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