Medicare expenses growing faster for obese seniors: study

Reuters – Kerry Grens: February 16, 2012.

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Medicare is spending more money every year per person, and each obese beneficiary tacks on an extra $149 a year to that increase, according to a new study.

The researchers say chronic conditions associated with obesity, such as high blood pressure and diabetes, are to blame for the steeper climb in health care expenses.

“Not only do we have more obese Americans, but the obese population appears to be in worse health today than they were in the past,” said Dawn Alley, the lead author of the study and a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Alley and her colleagues collected survey data on nearly 30,000 people with Medicare, the government’s health insurance for seniors. They divided the people into three groups — normal, overweight and obese — depending on their body mass index, or BMI, a measure of weight in relation to height.

Between 1997 and 2006, the percentage of obese people rose from 21 percent to 29 percent of Medicare beneficiaries, the researchers found.

Expenses also grew, with the health care tab for a normal-weight person increasing by $122 annually.

For those who were overweight, the cost went up by $230 per person, and for obese beneficiaries it climbed by $271.

“I think that’s a perfectly reasonable finding,” said Darius Lakdawalla, a health policy researcher at the University of Southern California, who was not involved in the study. “It’s in general agreement with a lot of other research on health and disability throughout the population.” Read Full Article