Centenarians and the American Health Care Debate September 12, 2009Posted by Matt Brown in Fitness, Longevity.
Tags: aging, centenarians, health care, Longevity
It’s official. If you want to live 100 years you have to move to Okinawa. Okay I made that up but it is true that Okinawa has the highest percentage of centenarians in the world at about 52 in 100,000. That’s one of the many things you will learn by reading the article linked below which is in fact a pretty interesting article.
You can read the article yourself for the full story but what I want to talk about is something different. I want to talk about how centenarians tie into the current health care debate going on in America. Amongst all the fear mongering of a government take over of the health system and communist infiltrators destroying the country there is a legitimate debate going on over how to reduce costs, which considering the escalating costs of health care is something that needs to take place. Both the Democrats, led by Obama, and the Republicans have plans out for how they would reform the heath care system. Obama’s plan to reduce costs involves the creation of a public insurance plan for private companies to compete with, cutting waste in the Medicare system and emphasizing preventive care to catch diseases before they advance. The Republican plan seems to chiefly revolve around tort reform.
The problem is that, according to experts, neither plan seems like it would decrease health care costs all that much. According to the Congressional Budget Office medical malpractice costs make up less than 2 percent of all health care spending so any reform in tort law is unlikely to produce the kind of savings everyone is looking for. As for Obama: driving down costs with competition sounds great but there is no guarantee, the same goes for cutting waste in Medicare and while preventive care will certainly save lives studies show that it fails to save money, since many of the tests that would be used to catch diseases early would be given to people who would never have developed the disease.
The thing is, neither plan address were most of the spending in medicine takes place: the elderly. Estimates for the amount spent on health care for those over 65 go as high as 60% of total costs and it’s no secret why. The elderly are much more likely to suffer from a number of crippling degenerative diseases (Alzheimers, osteoporosis, diabetes) which rather than kill them quickly, which is horrible and cheap, kill them slowly, which is horrible and expensive. The cost of keeping the elderly alive is where most health care costs come from and this is what makes centenarians so interesting.
According to this article and other research, centenarians avoid many of the degenerative disease that afflict those who die slightly younger and are able, in many cases, to live independently till the day they die. The reason for this is simply that those who make it to the extremes of old age are the strongest and fittest, able to resist the damaging effects of aging better than there counterparts. While lifestyle certainly plays a part in this (the article mentions diet, exercise, “psycho-spiritual” and social as contributing factors) centenarians also seem to possess a genetic advantage over the rest of us, as evidence by the fact that the various centenarian hot spots around the globe tend to be isolated island communities with a large amount of inbreeding. Centenarians may indeed hold the secret to longevity and health in there DNA and that is where the focus of health care should be.
You want to cut costs in health care Mr. President, start funding anti-aging research. Find every centenarian you can and turn their genetic code inside out, look at every substance that shows the slightest promise of halting aging, because if we can slow aging even the smallest bit the implications could be enormous. Leaving aside the benefits people would experience by living longer and healthier lives (which I assume I don’t need to go into,) the savings in costs would be tremendous. Every degenerative disease, which as I said are the ones that cost us the most money to treat, is either caused or is made worse by one thing: aging. Cure that and you go a long way towards curing them all.
I will finish this by responding to a counter argument I’m sure some of you are making. “Sure, all this sounds good but it won’t do anything to reduce costs now.” You are right. This will not in any way help to reduce costs in the immediate future and as such needs to be only one part, though a large part, of any plan to fix our health care system. But if we think what we have now is bad, we haven’t seen anything yet. The baby boomers are on the brink of retirement and with today’s medical technology stand to live even longer than the generation before them. If we start this research now, we may just be ready for them when the time comes.
(As a side note, though you may not be able to tell from the article I support a single payer universal health care system.)