population ageing and healthcare costs

This year’s World Health Report focuses on provision of universal health care. The report has a helpful index (pp. 139-146), and provides a convenient survey of a large literature. Here is one small example: a debunking of the myth that population ageing is a major driver of expenditure on health care.

The common assumption that population ageing will drive future health expenditure to unaffordable levels is not supported by this analysis. These results are in line with some other assessments which have found that ageing is not expected to incur substantial increases in health-care costs. ….

Research on the cost of dying shows that the proximity of death is a more important predictor of high health-care expenditure than is ageing. A large proportion of lifetime expenditure on health-care typically occurs in the last year of life, particularly in the last few weeks before death, and health-care expenditure tends to be lower for those who are most elderly (> 80 years). Furthermore, although older people are major consumers of health care, other factors – notably technological developments – have a greater effect on total health care costs.

“Case-study 12: Affordable health care in ageing populations”, The World Health Report 2013: Research for universal health coverage (World Health Organization, Geneva, 2013), p. 83.

The full report can be downloaded without charge.

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