Background: People without major risk factors for cardiovascular disease in middle age live longer than those with unfavorable risk-factor profiles. It is not known whether such low-risk status also results in lower expenditures for medical care at older ages. We used data from the Chicago Heart Association Detection Project in Industry to assess the relation of a low risk of cardiovascular disease in middle age to Medicare expenditures later in life.
Methods: We studied 7039 men and 6757 women who were 40 to 64 years of age when surveyed between 1967 and 1973 and who survived to have at least two years of Medicare coverage in 1984 through 1994. Men and women classified as being at low risk for cardiovascular disease were those who had the following characteristics at the time they were initially surveyed: serum cholesterol level, <200 mg per deciliter (5.2 mmol per liter); blood pressure, < or =120/80 mm Hg; no current smoking; an absence of electrocardiographic abnormalities; no history of diabetes; and no history of myocardial infarction. We compared Medicare costs for the 279 men (4.0 percent) and 298 women (4.4 percent) who had this low-risk profile with those for the rest of the study group, who were not at low risk. Health Care Financing Administration charges for services to Medicare beneficiaries were used to estimate average annual health care costs (total costs, those for cardiovascular diseases, and those for cancer).
Results: Average annual health care charges were much lower for persons at low risk - the total charges for the men at low risk were less than two thirds of the charges for the men not at low risk ($1,615 less); for the women at low risk, the charges were less than one half of those for the women not at low risk ($1,885 less). Charges related to cardiovascular disease were lower for the low-risk groups of men and women than for those not at low risk (by $979 and $556, respectively), and charges related to cancer were also lower (by $134 and $189).
Conclusions: People with favorable cardiovascular risk profiles in middle age had lower average annual Medicare charges in older age. Having optimal status with respect to major cardiovascular risk factors may result not only in greater longevity but also in lower health care costs.