Rebecca Quilliam

Rebecca Quilliam is senior reporter at the NZME. News Service office in Wellington.

Health costs set to double over next 50 years

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

People may be paying more for their own medical care in future, and be under pressure to take in their ailing parents, as health costs are set to almost double in the next 50 years, a public health expert says.

Professor Tony Blakely, from Otago University's department of Public Health has published research in the New Zealand Medical Journal on how much public money is spent on healthcare.

Health costs spiral in the last years of a person's life, the research showed.

Prof Blakely told APNZ that as the population ages public health spending as a percentage of the GDP might increase from 6.9 per cent in 2011 to 11.1 per cent by 2060.

"We are going to have to make some interesting decisions about where we put our health care spending into the future," he said.

There would be an "increasing discussion" about the role of the private sector in how much individuals need to be insured for their health care - especially later in life, Professor Blakely said.

Future Governments could start to push for families to take up care of their ailing relatives, he said.

"In India or Africa there's very little public funding of the health system - it's very much borne by the families, whether it be last year of life or their kid gets hit by a car and they have to deal with the orthopaedics."

The attention will at some point turn to how much tax money will go towards healthcare in the future, he said.

About two thirds of the country's $16 billion per year of public funding went towards hospitalisation, lab tests, pharmaceuticals and drugs.

Much of that cost could be reduced if people lived healthier lives, Prof Blakely said.

"If we did want to increase longevity, increase life expectancy and reduce morbidity so people are healthier at age 60 or 70, a much more cost effective way is with prevention."

This could be done in a variety of ways including working with the food industry to reduce salt in food, tax sugary soft drinks, or public campaigns about the dangers of smoking.

"Those things will be far more cost effective if societal goal is to live longer and be in better health."

Professor Blakely accepted demand on treatment services was "virtually never-ending", meaning that savings in one area such as fewer diabetes clinics, were usually quickly deployed elsewhere such as more services for Alzheimer's and dementia.

By the numbers:

* A person who dies aged 70 would have received $113,000 of publicly funded health services over their life on average (assuming 2007-2011 costs had applied over their entire life)

* A person who dies aged 90 would have received $223,000 of publicly funded health services on average

- APNZ

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