Study: Lower disability rates won't reduce Medicare outlays much

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While declining disability rates among Medicare beneficiaries have resulted in a cost savings, the rates will not significantly reduce program spending in coming years, a new study reports.

The longer life spans of those with fewer disabilities and rapid cost growth in this sector of the Medicare population might cancel any expected savings, according to the study, which appeared this week in the online version of the journal Health Affairs.

Medicare spending growth between 1992 and 2000 rose 23% for the nondisabled; 28% for beneficiaries with limitations in an instrumental activity of daily living; 10% for those with one or two difficulties with ADLs; and 0.6 percent for those with three or four ADLs.

Medicare spending on those with five or more ADLs fell 10% during the period, the study added. Spending may have increased for the least disabled because of an increase in the prevalence of certain diseases in this group, such as heart disease and diabetes, the study suggested.