Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Are You Better Off Dying Younger? New Research Says 'Yes'

Who can forget the cover of TIME from barely more than a year ago, featuring an infant's  head and a side tag  proclaiming: 'This Baby Could Live To Be 142 YEARS OLD'  The  cover subtitle added:  "Dispatches from the Frontiers of Longevity".  The feature article then dove into all the ways these "longevity researchers" were doing everything to ensure most of the human race - at least inhabiting advanced nations - could live to a ripe old age. And newly born infants might even hit 142.

In a blog post nearly a year ago (3/2/15), I basically skewered this longevity balderdash and suggested that life quality ought to supersede quantity, if for no other reason than keeping medical costs from destroying lives as effectively as diseases like diabetes or Alzheimer's. Now all these issues were revived in a new TIME piece, 'The New Age Of Aging' (Feb. 22, p. 60) which suggests Americans "need to start thinking further into their future" - not just to 70 or so but maybe to 90 or 100. This is an admirable sentiment, but is it worth thinking that far into one's future if one may not have the financial means to support it?

Now, new research reinforces my premise and shows just how parlous living longer may be for the pocketbooks of people who keep themselves physically healthy. According to Van Harlow, director of research at the Empower Institute, healthy seniors actually need to set aside much more money - not less - to cover Medicare premiums and related costs in retirement. This contradicts the usual advice given in sources such as MONEY magazine, i.e. that if seniors keep themselves healthy they will save a bundle of money. Hence, Harlow's findings are clearly counterintuitive.

What's the primary basis for this?

Contrary to the Repukes' and Neolibs'  PR that "Medicare  (or Medicare for All) is a freebie",  it is nothing of the sort. As Harlow found (Denver Post, p. 13A, 'Good Health In Retirement Creates Its Own Ills', Feb. 11):

"A healthy 65 year old man needs to set aside $143, 800 on average to cover typical health care expenses, mostly for premiums on the various Medicare supplement coverages, as well as co-pays and out of pocket expenses."

He added that even if one major disease befalls the otherwise healthy senior, say diabetes, it would add an additional $88,000 to what he or she needs to pay for medical, drug etc. costs. Add in a catastrophe like Alzheimer's disease, which even a healthy vegetarian can get, and you are looking at another $250,000 -300,000 for nursing home care.

Add in prolonged cancer treatments or accessing costly new cancer drugs just to try and grab a year or so more of life, e.g.


and you could be looking at up to a million or more added smackeroos, and a condition of "financial toxicity" as bad or worse than chemo toxicity - according to an article appearing in today's WSJ ('The High Cost of Cancer Care -  And The Physical Toll It Takes', p. R5). As one patient quoted in the piece put it:

"I am used to always working - paying bills on time. Now the illness took all that away."

These cases aren't just scare hype or exaggerations. Currently, for example, wifey and I each pay in  $105/ month in Medicare premiums (via deductions from Social Security) and separately pay roughly $190/ month each for Medicare Plan F supplements. And we aren't even including the Part D drug plan expenses, which include a monthly premium of $18.40 each - not including the deductibles or copays. (This also doesn't include the dental costs or for glasses, eye exams - which Medicare doesn't cover, period.)

I also went through a prostate cancer treatment (high dose brachytherapy) 3 years ago, and was fortunate I had Medicare by then. Else, the total cost would have been over $60,000 if I'd had to cough it all up myself (as it was I had to pay just over $1,200)

 In other words, getting older isn't cheap! And Medicare isn't a free "entitlement" as some of our brash, brainless politicos try to portray it.  Harlow's findings merely confirm this and disclose the longer one lives the more one will need to pay out for medical care-premiums, and hence the more money s/he will be need.  This is as opposed to a hard core (2 packs a day) smoker of age 65 who can maybe expect to croak at 69 or 70 from cancer or some other disease, thereby saving himself the extra hundreds of thousands of bucks he'd otherwise need - say if he managed to survive until 85 or so.

As I said, growing old isn't some "life of Riley" deal for most of us. This is also why it is supremely unfair (citing author  Paul Taylor in the latest TIME) to compare seniors'  aggregated wealth to that of young people. In this instance, Taylor wrote that as of 2013 the "median wealth of today's seniors was 20 times the wealth of the young". (This compared to a factor 8 times greater back in 1983, but Taylor never says whether he adjusted for inflation.) .

In any case, it's like comparing apples to oranges.  First, it takes no account of the decades the senior has had to accumulate that wealth - working, saving and investing-  and second, it takes no account of the much higher medical bills and debt he or she may face in old age. Add in a potential disability, say Alzheimer's or a permanent back injury from a fall and "longevity can prove devastating" according to the Harlow study. This is exactly why senior "wealth" must always include qualification (if compare to millennial wealth)  especially if the senior is not a member of the rarefied upper 1 percent income class. But too many media pieces recently have beaten up on merely moderately affluent elders say with the net worth of Bernie Sanders ($700k), This is egregious and off base.

Yeah, the young - especially today's college debt burdened millennials -  are "poor" by our (senior) standards, but what would you expect them to be? At the age of 23 or 24 I wasn't exactly rolling in money either and had minimal assets (as well as college loan debt albeit not as great as today's kids). That didn't change until after getting married and my wife and I could pool our talents, earnings and resources as a team. It is also why marriage remains the central means by which young people can parlay their meager assets into major ones. Inability to marry, for whatever reason, remains the key reason today's kids can't get ahead, buy homes or even rent apartments

But what is facing the young currently in terms of our rigged economic system, and low paying jobs, is only a taste of what will face them in old age, given this recent (Harlow)  study. In ten even twenty years there will be 30-40% more people chasing fewer jobs. Some scientists have even warned that the corporate yen to build more robots to take over positions could spell mass unemployment on a hitherto unseen scale. Looking "ahead" far into the future,  as the new TIME article suggests, means including all these limiting financial factors. All of which can curb potential assets and one's ability to pay medical costs.

In the computer-tech domain this is exactly what has happened. While we do see the occasional piece bragging about Google hiring 12,000 new workers, say in California, the mainstream media leaves unreported how many hundreds of thousands of computer-tech jobs are dispatched to Bangalore or Delhi in a given year. A Denver Post series last year on offshoring of jobs noted that youngsters planning college aren't stupid either, and having seen swatches of good computer tech support jobs dispatched offshore (including perhaps their own parents' positions) they aren't that convinced a computer science degree will get them very far anymore. Nor are they willing to gamble, leaving university with debts in the tens of thousands of dollars, that they'll nail a Google job by beating 100,000 to 1 odds.

The gist of it all is that extending human lifespans just for the sake of more years is misplaced. Without life quality or the associated means of financial support, those extra years will merely be spent as paupers or wards of the state - assuming the state has any money left after all its unpaid for wars, occupations etc.

A far more mature and rational goal for the longevity bunch is to enhance life quality. For example, by pouring money into  Alzheimer's research which currently (at barely $0.5b a year) is vastly under funded compared to cancer and cardiology research. Do that, and one might believe most people have a chance of living to maybe 90 with some degree of life quality, independence and dignity as well as not breaking the bank coping with a major disability and enormous nursing home expenses.

Sadly, if Bernie Sanders fails in his bid to win the presidency (thanks to the attacks of the corporate state and its numerous apparatchiks), dying younger may indeed be the only practical option for most Americans in their later years. In that case, the choice of many to continue smoking away or chowing down on gigantic 'Jack in the Box' burgers and KFC chicken, may actually be a rational one.

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