The Medicare population is becoming older and sicker, contributing to an increase in patient acuity and use of health care services, according to an AHA TrendWatch report released today. The report examines the dramatic rise in chronic disease, obesity and complex conditions such as end-stage renal disease in recent years; how patients are living longer due to advances in medicine and improved use of health care services; and the higher intensity care required of this older and sicker Medicare population. "Chronic disease is rising among Medicare patients," the report concludes. "That's why it's not surprising that the new patient classification system (MS-DRGs) - designed to account for complications and comorbidities and their associated resource use - shows a rise in patient case mix over time relative to the old system. Policy makers should carefully consider the trends of increasing acuity in the Medicare patient population as they seek changes to payment policy."