NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH
NATIONAL BUREAU OF ECONOMIC RESEARCH

Understanding the Improvement in Disability-Free Life Expectancy in the U.S. Elderly Population

Michael Chernew, David M. Cutler, Kaushik Ghosh, Mary Beth Landrum

Chapter in NBER book Insights in the Economics of Aging (2017), David A. Wise, editor (p. 161 - 201)
Conference held April 30-May 2, 2015
Published in March 2017 by University of Chicago Press
© 2017 by the National Bureau of Economic Research
in NBER Book Series - The Economics of Aging

Understanding how healthy lifespans are changing is essential for public policy. This paper explores changes in healthy lifespan in the U.S. over time and considers reasons for the changes. We reach three fundamental conclusions. First, we show that healthy life increased measurably in the US between 1992 and 2008. Years of healthy life expectancy at age 65 increased by 1.8 years over that time period, while disabled life expectancy fell by 0.5 years. Second, we identify the medical conditions that contribute the most to changes in healthy life expectancy. The largest improvements in healthy life expectancy come from reduced incidence and improved functioning for those with cardiovascular disease and vision problems. Together, these conditions account for 63 percent of the improvement in disability-free life expectancy. Third and more speculatively, we explore the role of medical treatments in the improvements for these two conditions. We estimate that improved medical care is likely responsible for a significant part of the cardiovascular and vision-related extension of healthy life.

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This chapter first appeared as NBER working paper w22306, Understanding the Improvement in Disability Free Life Expectancy In the U.S. Elderly Population, Michael Chernew, David M. Cutler, Kaushik Ghosh, Mary Beth Landrum
Commentary on this chapter: Comment, Jonathan Skinner
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