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Baby Boomers – another healthcare crisis looming

With a new year now underway and a Republican led congress beginning session, the economy and healthcare are paramount. The national debt is also a nagging concern and it is painfully obvious the government will be unable to balance the books without dealing with health care costs, and now a new twist has reared its head and Medicare is in the middle.
In 2011, some 2.8 million baby boomers will turn 65 and thus become eligible for Medicare, a health insurance for people 65 years or older, under age 65 with certain disabilities, and any age with end-stage renal disease (ESRD) or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Medicare has four parts — Part A, which is hospital insurance, Part B, which is medical insurance, Part C, which is Medicare Advantage Plans, and finally, Part D, which is Prescription Drug Coverage. Reportedly, it currently covers some 46 million elderly and disabled people at an annual cost of about $500 billion, but what happens when millions of Americans turn 65 in one year?
With the skyrocketing costs associated with American-style medicine, which continues to stress intensive treatment with “specialists” utilizing the latest innovations, and information savvy seniors arriving at Medicare’s door, what will happen to the already strained system of Medicare? Not even to consider the increase in the life expectancy of this generation.
Besides age, another point to consider in this dilemma is that these individuals are approaching retirement with more health problems than that of past generations. A century ago, people died mostly from infectious diseases. Today, they’re dying of chronic, lingering conditions such as Alzheimer’s, heart disease, diabetes and cancer – conditions which typically require long-term treatment and care. Where is this money going to come from? Significant annual increases in healthcare costs per person will place enormous budgetary strain on U.S. state and federal governments.
Another problem that will arise is the shortage of doctors and nurses. The Center for Workforce Studies of the Association of American Medical Colleges said that most doctors, about 40 percent of them, are 55 or older and are candidates for retirement. Fresh graduate nurses and doctors are being trained, but there are not enough to replace the outgoing medical staffers. In rural areas, such as Johnson County, there is already a shortage of healthcare options.
When the last of the boomers reaches age 65 in about two decades, Medicare will be expected to cover more than 80 million people while in at the same time, the ratio of workers paying taxes to support the program will have plunged.
Something has got to give, but not all baby boomers will need to enroll in Medicare as many will continue working and will be covered by their employer’s health insurance. A person who has good health insurance through their employer should keep that coverage and does not need to enroll in Medicare and when that person retires, they are allowed to enroll in Part B of Medicare with no late enrollment penalty.
This onslaught of those Medicare eligible will, no doubt, more pressure on the president and Congress to either reduce Medicare benefits, increase co-payments or raise the qualifying age. “We’re at the beginning of the age wave, which will bring a tsunami of spending associated with the Medicare program,” says David Walker, a former U.S. comptroller general now heading the Comeback America Initiative, a fiscal watchdog group. “It serves to reinforce the need to reform existing entitlement programs and restructure existing health care promises in order to make them affordable and sustainable.”
The generation that protested the Vietnam War, witnessed the assassination of President John F. Kennedy and watched Americans land on the moon is reaching retirement and the medical field better be preparing for it!