The Herald Bulletin

January 18, 2014

Jim Bailey: We’re living longer now but requiring more medical care

The Herald Bulletin

---- — The uproar over the projected high cost of Obamacare reflects changes in human longevity. That’s the good news. The bad news is it’s costing us more over the long haul.

Those ridiculous ages in the book of Genesis aside (probably reflecting different ways of reckoning the length of a year in ancient times), people are living longer these days. Jesus is said to have lived 33 years on Earth, and for the time that probably was about the life expectancy of men.

Disease, the elements, wild animals and unpredicted natural disasters likely took its toll on men. So did wars, which were virtually universal in those days and centered around hand-to-hand combat. In the case of women, virtually nonexistent birth control brought large numbers of children, and with primitive medical knowledge, the chances of dying from complications of childbirth were considerably greater.

The age of enlightenment, the industrial revolution and general advancement of human knowledge began to change all that in the last few centuries. Still, when Social Security became law in the 1930s, the retirement age of 65 roughly corresponded with a person’s life expectancy. Few politicos envisioned the day when just about everyone would harbor the hopes not only of retirement but at an age when it could still be enjoyed.

Of course, it remains a fact of life that health management corresponds roughly with age. Younger people don’t worry much about health insurance since only occasionally do they spend any time in the hospital as a patient.

I was fortunate enough to have company-paid health insurance from the outset. Rarely did I have occasion to use it, though, until our children started coming along. Then limited maternity benefits were available. It was years later before maternity began being treated correspondingly with involuntary health concerns.

Over that span, enormous strides were being made in treating illnesses, especially the ones responsible for major debilitations and deaths. Cancer was no longer always a death sentence, and heart trouble could be predicted and managed. Blood pressure, cholesterol levels and many other indicators could now be controlled. Diseases that used to decimate the population have been virtually wiped out by immunizations to the point where some question whether the vaccines are more dangerous than the risk they prevent.

That led to the other shoe dropping, of course. Medical care became more sophisticated and correspondingly more expensive. As more and more people lived into their 80s and 90s, the cost of insuring their medical care skyrocketed.

Obamacare posited one answer: Spread the risk out over the broad spectrum of the population (translation: make sure all young people buy health insurance policies). Rob Peter to pay Paul, maybe. At any rate we haven’t heard the last of it yet.

In the meantime most people in the civilized world are living longer. Whether they are enjoying it more is a good question.

Jim Bailey’s reflections on Anderson’s past appear on Sunday. His regular column appears on Thursday. He can be reached by e-mail at