Posted by | February 19, 2011 11:32 | Filed under: Contributors Opinion Sandi Behrns

by Sandi Behrns

A new study from the Journal of Public Health Policy (subscription only) may make things a bit uncomfortable for those who advocate cuts to Social Security benefits on the grounds that Americans are now living longer. Turns out, improvements in longevity may not be independent of Social Security. In fact, when benefits are improved, older Americans benefit most, through lower mortality and improved health.

Americans over the age of 65 experienced steep declines in the rate of mortality in the periods that followed the founding of and subsequent improvements to Social Security…

Peter Arno, Ph.D., the study’s lead author and professor and director of the doctoral program in the Department of Health Policy and Management of the School of Health Sciences and Practice at New York Medical College … and his colleagues analyzed the effect of Social Security on mortality over the course of the 20th century. After controlling for factors such as changes in the economy, access to medical care, and Medicare, they found that although mortality rates for all adults fell during the 20th century, rates of decline for those 65 and older changed more than 50 percent in the decades following the introduction of Social Security in 1940. Rates of decline for the younger age groups remained virtually the same during this period. The trend was particularly pronounced following marked improvements in Social Security benefits between the mid-1960s and the early 1970s. [EurekAlert!]

The flip side of these improvements to elder health and longevity would imply that stripping away Social Security benefits would undermine, perhaps even eliminate those gains. I guess slashing the lifespans of  people on Social Security would be one way to bring down system costs.

Unfortunately, though,  improved health among seniors equates with lower health care costs (in other words – Medicare – the true culprit in our long-term fiscal mess). So in the end, these uncomfortable cuts to Social Security could lead to expanding Medicare costs through more costly chronic and end-of-life care. Sickly seniors dying sooner, with a deficit still out of control: they can’t really be serious, can they?

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Copyright 2011 Liberaland
By: Sandi Behrns

Sandi Behrns is a noted policy nerd, new media & web developer, and consultant to progressive organizations and campaigns. She is a senior contributor to Liberaland, and the Executive Editor of Progressive Congress News.