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Carnegie Mellon Researcher Links Health Care Debate to Risk of Dying in the U.S. and Europe
Date:11/6/2009

PITTSBURGH, Nov. 6 /PRNewswire/ -- The current health care debate in the United States is complicated. Trade-offs between heath care expenditures, lifestyle choices and life expectancy have been suggested but seldom clearly demonstrated. The U.S. spends on average more than $45,000 per year on health care for every 80 year old, while the Europeans spend $12,000 for the same age group. U.S. octogenarians have a 20 percent less chance of dying than Europeans in the next year. But, more than 30 percent of the U.S. population is obese, compared to less than 10 percent of Europe's population.

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"Many of the lifestyle choices that we make as adults have negative health consequences," said Paul Fischbeck, professor of social and decision sciences and engineering and public policy at Carnegie Mellon University. "But once we reach retirement age, it appears that differences in the medical systems start to favor the U.S."

The costs of U.S. policy are staggering. If the U.S. had the same per capita health expenditures for retirees as Germany or the United Kingdom, our country's total health care costs for all citizens would be about 40 percent less.

"The differences between U.S. and Europe in health care expenditures could not be starker," Fischbeck said. "Starting at age 65, per capita U.S. expenditures skyrocket, resulting in many hundreds of billions of dollars being spent over our European counterparts after matching population sizes."

Tough health care policy decisions revolve around cost-benefit trade-offs. A variety of factors would have to be weighed if the country shifted the emphasis from care for the elderly to polices that favor earlier preventive and lifestyle choices.

"A shift in policy could lead to more people reaching age 65, but once there, facing a hi
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