USC Price School of Public Policy

Health Administration and Policy:

Zissimopoulos joins USC Global Conversation on ‘Defining Future Reality’

October 15, 2014

Julie Zissimopoulos says medical advances would best improve quality of life and lower medical costs if they focused on delaying the rate of aging rather than on treating specific diseases. (Photo by Dana Maxson)
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By Cristy Lytal

Over the last century, new medical innovations have ushered in two profound changes: life expectancy increased by almost a quarter, and the U.S. now spends more per capita on health care than any other nation.

At the USC Global Conversation in New York on Oct. 15, USC Price School of Public Policy Assistant Professor Julie Zissimopoulos addressed the difficult question of which medical innovations are worth their price tags.

Titled “Defining Future Reality,” the event — USC’s first of its kind in New York — was a showcase of new digital scholarship and technology. Zissimopoulos, a leading researcher and associate director of the USC Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics, joined a distinguished group of presenters.

Jimmy Iovine, co-founder and CEO of Beats Electronics and founder of the USC Iovine/Young Academy, delivered the keynote address. USC luminaries including biological imaging leader Scott Fraser, computer scientist Hao Li, cinematic world-builder Alex McDowell, neuroimaging expert Arthur Toga and body computing pioneer Leslie Saxon also lent their voices to the conversation, which was hosted by USC Provost Elizabeth Garrett. The Institute for Creative Technologies, USC’s immersive reality incubator, hosted a reception with interactive demonstrations of everything from an open-source virtual reality viewer to an avatar generator.

During the presentation, Zissimopoulos took a hard look at spending in light of health outcomes, including life expectancy, quality of life and disease-free life.

“Value might come by spending more and achieving health outcomes that are worth that additional spending,” she said. “Or it may come by spending less and not harming health.”

She introduced the audience to the “Future Elderly Model,” which incorporates massive amounts of data about Americans’ health care spending and outcomes over 20-plus years. This model projects how future medical innovations might alter health, longevity and health care spending.

“There are very few models like ours that put together these health and economic outcomes, which is the key to understanding value,” she said. “The only reason why today we can start to do that is because of the combination of big data that’s available and the computing power.”

Zissimopoulos and her colleagues at the Schaeffer Center use this unique and powerful model to tackle two crucial questions: How much value would come from medical innovations that delay the onset of Alzheimer’s disease? And, how much value would come from medical innovations that delay the aging process as a whole?

As the U.S. population ages, the number of people with Alzheimer’s disease will grow. However, the model indicates that if medical innovations could delay the onset by five years, many of these patients would never develop the disease at all, saving hundreds of billions of dollars in health care costs between now and 2050.

Delaying the aging process as a whole also has tremendous value. The model shows that innovations that delay the aging process could result in millions of additional Americans age 65 and older being alive and healthy in 2060.

“At the Schaeffer Center, we do a lot of research, and the purpose of it is to have policy impact,” Zissimopoulos said. “You get policy impact in various ways. You can talk to policymakers directly, but it’s also important to reach the general public and to change the way people think or talk about these topics.”

For more information about the USC Global Conversation, visit