Technology will extend life, but inflate Medicare

Emerging biomedical technology may be a double-edged sword, simultaneously resulting in healthier, longer lives while also fueling Medicare spending.

Analysts at the RAND Corp., a nonprofit research group based in Santa Monica, Calif., used a detailed model of Medicare spending to project what would happen under a number of scenarios. Their study, being released on Monday, included a look at 10 medical technologies that experts said would emerge in the coming decades. For example, researchers estimated what the cost might be of expanding the use of implantable defibrillators for life-threatening heart conditions, according to the AP.

The devices, which show promise in treating heart attacks and heart failure, are planted in a patient's chest. If half of the patients with new cases of heart failure or heart attacks got the devices, health care spending on the elderly would increase by $14 billion, or 4 percent, over the next 10 years, according to the study.

Goldman and fellow researchers said older people's health has improved in important ways since the 1980s and can be expected to continue to do so. But when people live longer, they spend more to maintain their health, he said. If half of elderly patients with new cases of heart failure or heart attack were to receive implantable cardioverter defibrillators (ICDs), for instance, total treatment costs would rise to $27 billion in 2005 dollars, Forbes reports. Researchers factored in lifesaving equipment such as defibrillators for their spending model. They even simulated how much spending would increase if scientists discovered a pill to extend life. Spending would increase simply because millions of more people would be eligible for Medicare, they noted.