Healthcare is getting more expensive in most western countries. It is widely assumed that one of the major factors behind this is the ageing of populations (baby boomers produced in the burst of high birth rates in the 1950s and '60s are now retiring but fewer children are being born).

For example, this analysis in the Guardian states:

More than two-fifths of national health spending in the UK is devoted to people over 65, according to estimates produced for the Guardian by the Nuffield Trust – a figure that is only likely to increase with the nation’s ageing demographic.

Though many other sources could be cited assuming the same thing.

Not everyone agrees. This myth buster piece by the Canadian Health Services Research Foundation argues:

Some of the best research shows that, although health care costs will begin to rise as baby-boomers age, the impact will be modest in comparison to that of other cost drivers, such as inflation and technological innovation.

One argument against is that the very fact people are living longer is a sign that they are more healthy. Another is that the real cause of cost growth is a failure to adapt to the specific need of the old, not an internet need for higher cost care.

Is the widely held belief that healthcare costs are rising as a result of older populations right or not?

  • Would this be better on Economics.SE?
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 1 '17 at 20:19
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    @Oddthinking Perhaps. But it isn't just an economics question. And it is the sort of casually stated and widely health belief that deserves some of the sort of attention that skeptics.SE often provides.
    – matt_black
    Feb 1 '17 at 20:27
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    The problem is that the claim speculates about the future. Any of inflation, technology, or a longer old age could cause increased costs. Or aliens could arrive and give us free health care, making the question moot. We don't know. This would be a better question if it focused on a claim about past behavior. Even the quoted claim is a bit weaselly. What's the "best research?" Or "modest in comparison?" I don't know that it would fit as stands on Economics.SE either, although that seems closer.
    – Brythan
    Feb 1 '17 at 22:26
  • @Brythan We could take the view that philosophising about whether or not anything in the future is predictable is entirely futile and inappropriate. But that would be an extreme view. The essence of the claim (and most of the wording) is about whether there is any evidence now that age is the main drive of increasing cost. That is clearly on topic.
    – matt_black
    Feb 1 '17 at 22:34
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    Technology certainly cost money. If a patient gets lung cancer the option of "Sorry, you'll die" is certainly cheaper than an operation.
    – liftarn
    Feb 2 '17 at 10:35

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