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Elizabeth Cooney is a health reporter for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette.
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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Covering people before 65 reduces health care costs later

Providing health care to uninsured adults before they qualify for Medicare coverage may not only improve their health but also reduce costs after they turn 65, a Harvard study says.

People who haven’t had insurance coverage are significantly more likely to report poor health before the age of 65, the authors report in tomorrow’s New England Journal of Medicine.

They looked at data from the national Health and Retirement Study to compare health care expenditures between insured and uninsured adults at age 59 and 60 and then again after 65. They concluded that expanding health insurance coverage for uninsured people before 65 might be offset by savings in health care costs that would come later, particularly for people who have cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

"It may be less costly than people thought," Dr. J. Michael McWilliams, a research associate at Harvard Medical School, said in an interview. "Earlier coverage improves health and reduces health care needs."

These findings are especially important as baby boomers reach 65, he said. The current generation of adults has higher rates of obesity and hypertension than their parents', pointing to more chronic disease and a greater need for preventive care, said McWilliams, who also practices general internal medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

When previously uninsured adults reach 65, they have significantly more doctor visits and hospital stays than adults who had coverage before. The uninsured patients also had more out-of-pocket expenditures after 65 that were not covered by Medicare, the authors found.

"Not only does providing coverage to these adults substantially reduce their health care needs after 65, but it also protects them financially," McWilliams said.

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 05:56 PM
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