Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

How Much Are You Willing to Pay to Live Longer?

The following article places rising health care costs into perspective and should help reduce complaints about the increases.

See David Leonhardt, The Choice: A Longer Life or More Stuff, NY Times, Sept. 27, 2006:

The average cost of a family insurance plan that Americans get through their jobs has risen another 7.7 percent this year, to $11,500 * * *

In 1950, the country spent less than $100 a year — or $500 in today’s dollars — on the average person’s medical care, compared with almost $6,000 now * * *

Most families in the 1950’s paid their medical bills with ease, but they also didn’t expect much in return. After a century of basic health improvements like indoor plumbing and penicillin, many experts thought that human beings were approaching the limits of longevity. * * *

But then doctors figured out that high blood pressure and high cholesterol caused heart attacks, and they developed new treatments. Oncologists learned how to attack leukemia, enabling most children who receive a diagnosis of it today to triumph over a disease that was almost inevitably fatal a half-century ago. In the last few years, orphan drugs that combat rare diseases and medical devices like the implantable defibrillator have extended lives. * * *

Instead, a baby born in the United States this year will live to age 78 on average, a decade longer than the average baby born in 1950. People who have already made it to their 40’s can now expect to reach age 80. These gains are probably bigger than the ones the British experienced in the entire millennium leading up to 1800. If you think about this as the return on the investments in medicine, the payoff has been fabulous: Would you prefer spending an extra $5,500 on health care every year — or losing 10 years off your lifespan? * * *

There is no question that the American medical system does suffer from a lot of waste, be it insurance industry bureaucracy or expensive procedures that haven’t been proven effective. * * *

But far too much of the discussion has been centered on this narrow idea. Somehow, going to the mall to buy clothes has come to be seen as a vaguely patriotic way to keep the economy humming, and taking out a risky mortgage is considered to be an investment in one’s future. But medical care? That’s just a cost.


Disability Planning - Health Care | Permalink

TrackBack URL for this entry:


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference How Much Are You Willing to Pay to Live Longer?:


The conclusions drawn by the article strike me as ridiculous, the analogies inapt. Yes, the miracles of the semiconductor and data storage allow me to run a solo lawfirm on a laptop that is more powerful than all the computing power in the Defense Department in 1964 (or some such); and yes, the miracles of anti-lock brakes and crushable frames and snow tires have made driving vastly safer over the years; but IT DOES NOT FOLLOW that I would care to pay a dollar more than I have to for my next laptop or my next car.

The point may apply narrowly to the costs of certain prescription drugs, but unless it's true that the longevity benefit is linked to the outrageous cost increases, the argument is like saying that I shouldn't mind if my housekeeper is stealing from me as long as my income keeps rising every year. Ridiculous.

Posted by: George Bischof | Sep 27, 2006 1:26:31 PM

Post a comment