It is still an open question whether increasing life expectancy as such is causing higher health care expenditures (HCE) in a population. According to the "red herring" hypothesis, the positive correlation between age and HCE is exclusively due to the fact that mortality rises with age and a large share of HCE is caused by proximity to death. As a consequence, rising longevity - through falling mortality rates - may even reduce HCE. However, a weakness of previous empirical studies is that they use cross-sectional evidence to make inferences on a development over time. In this paper we analyse the impact of rising longevity on the trend of HCE over time by using data for a pseudo-panel of German sickness fund members over the period 1997-2009. Using (dynamic) panel data models, we find that age, mortality and five-year survival rates have a positive impact on per-capita HCE. Our explanation for the last finding is that physicians treat patients more aggressively if they think the result will pay off for a longer time span, which we call "Eubie Blake effect". A simulation on the basis of an official population forecast for Germany is used to isolate the effect of demographic ageing on real per-capita HCE over the next decades.
Breyer, Friedrich, Normann Lorenz and Thomas Niebel (2012), Health Care Expenditures and Longevity: Is There a Eubie Blake Effect?, DIW Discussion Paper 1226, Berlin. Download