Looking Ahead to an Unpredictable Future

November 1, 2011

The tumultuous economic and political environment adds to the uncertainty many Americans face in planning for their futures. . Challenges in the job market and financial instability add to concerns about rising health care costs and the ability to afford quality care,  especially for the one in two Americans living with chronic disease. This week’s news roundup focuses on some of the challenges we face related to chronic disease, particularly the economic issues related to health care spending as we age.   

  • According to a recent article in the Wall Street Journal, which summarizes a Retirement Adviser panel hosted by MarketWatch senior columnist Robert Powell, many Americans may be ill-prepared to safe-guard themselves from health care costs related to the natural progression of aging. During the panel discussion, one guest panelist, Kathryn McCabe Votava, president and founder of, a health-care consulting firm stated “A lot of people, when they get to retirement, don't have health care in their budgets. Or if it is there, it has been lumped in with everything else, and it's been grown at insufficient inflation rates.” In time, this trend could be devastating to the health care system and the entire economy overall as Medicare and Medicaid is already struggling to keep up with the ever-growing number of people affected by chronic disease every year. Dr. Joseph F. Coughlin also noted during the discussion that “One hundred and ten million Americans have at least one chronic disease; 60 million of us have at least two; and 20 million of us won the lottery ticket of five chronic diseases. This is your future. You are going to be living longer.”
  • Even in the face of all these hurdles, a recent Excellus BlueCross BlueShield study finds that “three out of four [baby boomers] and others nearing this milestone self-rate their health as good or better, even though half report having at least one chronic condition.” As a result, the study suggests that longer lifespans have misled many adult Americans into believing that they are less likely to be seriously affected by a chronic illness: “Today’s 65-year-olds can expect to live an additional 19 years, which is about five years longer than was expected for an individual of similar age in 1946, the first year of the baby boom,” said Dr. Marybeth McCall, Excellus BCBS chief medical officer. “But with aging comes a host of acute and chronic health conditions… “In addition to added expenses, [these] can cause years of pain and suffering and functional decline that can lead to disability and loss of independence.”
  • Similarly, young Americans may be even more alarmed to find they are at just as much risk of developing a chronic illness as their older counterparts. reports that, according to a new study,  even young people who may appear healthy actually have early signs of heart disease. The study, conducted by the Quebec Heart Institute at Laval University in Quebec City, found that 48 percent of study participants “showed signs of blood vessel thickening, an early indication of developing cardiovascular disease.” These new findings suggest that good health is more than skin deep and even people who seem like the “pictures of good health,” need to take the same precautions to prevent chronic disease as everyone else, including exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy diet.

Good health and sound economics are inextricably linked, both at a governmental and personal level.  After all, a man with good health has many wishes; a man with poor health has but one.  Taking steps today to have better health tomorrow is an important way to achieve greater security in uncertain times.