Are obese patients actually cost-effective?
That’s what Jacob Sullum at Reason seems to think:
[T]he fact that obese people have higher annual health care costs…does not mean they have higher lifetime costs. It therefore does not follow that reducing obesity would reduce total medical spending in the long run.
In fact, a study published last year in PLoS Medicine reached the opposite conclusion: Because obese people tend to die sooner than thin people do, the researchers found, eliminating obesity would increase spending on health care. “Although effective obesity prevention leads to a decrease in costs of obesity-related diseases,” the authors wrote, “this decrease is offset by cost increases due to diseases unrelated to obesity in life-years gained. Obesity prevention may be an important and cost-effective way of improving public health, but it is not a cure for increasing health expenditures.”
In a December report, the Congressional Budget Office likewise warned that “any savings to the federal government” from discouraging unhealthy habits such as overeating or smoking “could be at least partially offset by additional expenditures as healthier individuals live longer.” For example, “Medicare costs could rise for the treatment of other diseases and conditions during those extra years of life, and expenditures for programs that are not directly related to health (such as Social Security) could also increase as life spans are extended.”
Nothing especially new or surprising here. We already know that smoking actually saves money as well. But the object of medicine is not first and foremost to cut costs. It is to restore sick and injured people to health to the greatest extent possible.
You can also save money on gasoline by taking that gas-guzzling engine out of your car. But when you try to go to work, “cost-effectiveness” will not magically propel the vehicle.