Understanding the economic consequences of shifting trends in population health
The public economic burden of shifting trends in population healthremains uncertain. Sustained increases in obesity, diabetes, and otherdiseases could reduce life expectancy – with a concomitant decrease inthe public-sector’s annuity burden – but these savings may be offset by worsening functional status, which increases health care spending, reduces labor supply, and increases public assistance. Using a microsimulation approach, we quantify the competing public-finance consequences of shifting trends in population health for medical care costs, labor supply, earnings, wealth, tax revenues, and government expenditures (including Social Security and income assistance). Together, the reduction in smoking and the rise in obesity have increased net public-sector liabilities by $430bn, or approximately 4% of the current debt burden. Larger effects are observed for specific public programs: annual spending is 10% higher in the Medicaid program, and 7% higher for Medicare.