U.S. Medicare Spending on Elderly Has Outpaced Canada's

Growth three times faster in the U.S., while Canada offers more comprehensive benefits

TUESDAY, Oct. 30 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. Medicare spending on the elderly has grown nearly three times faster than its Canadian counterpart, according to a study published online Oct. 29 in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

David U. Himmelstein, M.D., and Steffie Woolhandler, M.D., M.P.H., from the City University of New York in New York City, analyzed Medicare spending for persons older than 64 years in Canada and the United States for 1971 through 2009, with particular emphasis on changes since 1980. Medicare part D (implemented in 2006) was excluded from the analysis.

The researchers found that the U.S. Medicare spending per elderly enrollee increased from $1,215 in 1980 to $9,446 in 2009 (an inflation-adjusted increase of 198.7 percent). For Canada, the comparable increase was 73.0 percent (from $2,141 to $9,292). Canada offers more comprehensive benefits covering about 80 percent of seniors' total health costs versus about 50 percent in U.S. Medicare, as seen in the higher base-year spending. Had U.S. costs risen at the lower Canadian rate, the projected savings would have totaled $154.2 billion in 2009 and $2.156 trillion for the period 1980 through 2009. U.S. costs increased 374.1 percent compared with 126.3 percent for Canada in the 1971 to 2009 period, with estimated foregone savings of $2.9024 trillion.

"Medicare spending has grown nearly three times faster in the United States than in Canada since 1980," the authors write. "To some, U.S. Medicare's grim financial health suggests an even grimmer conclusion: it can no longer keep its promise of all needed care for the elderly population."

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