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Rising Health Spending Is Not Just About Seniors

Summary:
The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has released its 23rd annual report on health spending in Canada - National Health Expenditure Trends, 1975 to 2019.  As a member of the CIHI National Health Expenditures advisory panel, it is always great to see the wealth of data on trends in health spending across Canada.   Total health spending in Canada in 2019 is expected to reach 4.4 billion which represents an increase of 3.9 percent over last year and also accounts for 11.6 percent of Canada’s GDP – a figure also up slightly from last year.  After a period of zero average annual growth in real per capita total health spending from 2010 to 2014, the period since 2014 has averaged about 1.4 percent a year.  This, however is lower than the average annual growth rate from

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The Canadian Institute for Health Information (CIHI) has released its 23rd annual report on health spending in Canada - National Health Expenditure Trends, 1975 to 2019As a member of the CIHI National Health Expenditures advisory panel, it is always great to see the wealth of data on trends in health spending across Canada.   Total health spending in Canada in 2019 is expected to reach $264.4 billion which represents an increase of 3.9 percent over last year and also accounts for 11.6 percent of Canada’s GDP – a figure also up slightly from last year.  After a period of zero average annual growth in real per capita total health spending from 2010 to 2014, the period since 2014 has averaged about 1.4 percent a year.  This, however is lower than the average annual growth rate from 1996 to 2010 at 3.3 percent.  Health spending growth has resumed but on what seems like a more sustainable trajectory given that real per capita GDP growth is closer to 2 percent. 

Much of the concern about rising health spending has focused on the effects of population aging.  Health spending does rise with age as Figure 1 below shows rather dramatically.  Aside from those aged less than 1-year, average per capita provincial/territorial government health spending is well below $5,000 until the 60-64 age group when it starts to rise above that threshold reaching over $30,000 for those aged over 90 years.  Yet, despite this surge after age 60, what is also interesting is that when the drivers to rising health spending are broken down, in 2019, aging per se only contributes 0.8 percentage points out of the 3.8 percent growth in public sector health spending – about 21 percent – with general inflation, population growth and other factors (eg. Technology and utilization) accounting for the rest.  It does lead one to wonder whether this is because today’s seniors are generally quite healthy compared to the past or perhaps there are unmet needs.

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What is also interesting and seldom noted is that while provincial/territorial government per capita health spending is highest among seniors, over the last two decades, the rates of growth in per capita spending have not been for seniors.  Indeed, between 2000 and 2017, the highest average annual growth rates have been for children and youth aged 5 to 19, followed by children under age 1-year and adults aged 35-39 as shown in Figure 2. 

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Indeed, per capita spending for adults between the ages of 35 and 64 has been growing at a faster rate than those aged 65 to 89.  While it is true that much lower per capita amounts are being spent on those below age 65, this demographic has been seeing faster growth in health spending.  Again, this leads one to wonder given scarce resources, whether there is an implicit transfer of resources underway away from seniors when it comes to new spending growth or whether younger people today have more health problems or utilize health care more than similarly aged groups in the past.  Given the epidemic of obesity and mental health issues among the young, perhaps this is having an impact on health spending needs and expenditures. 

If a significant cohort shift in health care needs and utilization is underway is an interesting question. I suppose fully knowing if this is a recent development or has been underway for the last 50 years requires per capita age spending data going back quite a ways - I am only aware of the CIHI data going back to the mid 1990s or so.  This is an important issue.  While an aging population may only be contributing 21 percent of the increase in health spending now , if younger cohorts at present have deteriorating health status or more health issues than in the past, they may be poised to be a more important driver of health spending both now and in the future.

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