New study finds financial benefit to living longer

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    By ALI ANDERSON

    Dying older is cheaper, according to the research of a BYU professor of statistics, H. Dennis Tolley, and his colleagues.

    An article co-authored by Tolley and six other researchers appeared in the Science journal on Jan. 1. The article, based on research done by Tolley and his colleagues, suggests health care costs may be lower for those who live longer.

    “Most people become eligible for Medicare when they turn 65. From that point, a person who dies at age 90 will incur less overall health care costs than a person who dies at age 75, even though the first person received 15 more years of health care,” Tolley said.

    Tolley said he has not yet reached a definite conclusion to explain why living longer generally accompanies lower health care expenses. But, other research suggests lower costs for older people may be due to their avoidance of early chronic disease risks.

    The research of Tolley and his colleagues also explains how advancements in technology could eventually lower total health care costs.

    Tolley said when new technologies for a particular disease are developed, they usually cost more than traditional treatments.

    “But when technologies reach an advanced stage, they save money. Look at cataracts and polio. Improvements in technology have lowered treatment costs in those areas,” Tolley said.

    Tolley noted that although advanced technologies save money, the money saved is channeled to other areas of health care.

    A decline in disabilities also accounts for lower health care costs for some individuals, Tolley said.

    John L. Hilton, a BYU professor of statistics, said he has read the Science article which Tolley co-authored.

    “I thought it a very interesting conclusion, although I do not know much about the research. One thing we can gather from it is that Professor Tolley is doing cutting research in his field,” Hilton said.

    Gilbert W. Fellingham, also a BYU professor of statistics, has not read the article, but has discussed it with Tolley.

    “(Tolley) worked with some of the best people in his field in the country, and Science is certainly one of the best journals. I think it’s a quality piece of work,” Fellingham said.

    Tolley’s co-authors include: Herbert Pardes, Columbia University; Kenneth G. Manton, Duke University; Eric S. Lander, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Arthur D. Ullian, Task Force of Science, Health Care and the Economy; and Hans Palmer, Pomona College.

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