There’s been some long-running debate in the community over whether or not having people adopt healthy lifestyles would actually reduce health care costs as opposed to just making people healthier. After all, getting crushed by a an anvil at age 45 is terrible for your life expectancy, but not particularly costly compared to letting you live 20 more years before getting a cancer diagnosis. But via Ezra Klein and Tom Laskaway some indication that the research on obesity is now looking to indicate that it will save money:
Health economists once made the harsh financial calculation that the obese would save money by dying sooner. But more recent research instead suggests that better treatments are keeping them alive nearly as long – but they’re much sicker for longer, requiring such costly interventions as knee replacements and diabetes care and dialysis. Medicare spends anywhere from $1,400 to $6,000 more annually on health care for an obese senior than for the non-obese, Levi said.
This is basically good news, since the sort of measures that could create more opportunities for healthy diet and exercise habits are themselves relatively cheap compared to the delivery of health care services. But it’s long been a bit unclear as to whether or not cost-effective measures along those lines would actually pay for themselves in terms of reduced medical costs down the road. Insofar as that does seem to be the case, it further strengthens the argument that we can afford to build a healthier society. I don’t actually think it makes a ton of sense to argue that we should promote wellness in order to save money. Rather, we should promote wellness in order to produce healthier, longer-lived, happier people. But if such measures are cost-negative, that strengthens the case for taking the necessary steps.