NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

HEALTH SYSTEM UNPREPARED FOR CRUSH OF AGING BOOMERS

April 16, 2008

Millions of baby boomers are about to enter a health care system for seniors that not only isn't ready for them, but may even discourage them from getting high-quality care.

"We face an impending crisis as the growing number of older patients, outpaces the number of health care providers with the knowledge and skills to care for them capably," says John W. Rowe, professor of health policy and management at Columbia University.

An Institute of Medicine committee released a report Monday on the health care outlook for the 78 million baby boomers who begin turning 65 in 2011.  According to the researchers:

  • There aren't enough specialists in geriatric medicine.
  • Insufficient training is available.
  • The specialists that do exist are underpaid.
  • Medicare fails to provide for team care that many elderly patients need.

Medicare may even hinder seniors from getting the best care because of its low reimbursement rates, a focus on treating short-term health problems rather than managing chronic conditions and lack of coverage for preventive services, say the researchers.

The American Medical Association responded that seniors' access to Medicare in coming years is threatened by looming Medicare physician payment cuts.  This July, the government will begin steep cuts in Medicare physician payments, and 60 percent of physicians say this cut will force them to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat, says the AMA.

Furthermore:

  • According to the researchers, there are about 7,100 doctors certified in geriatrics in the United States, one per every 2,500 older Americans.
  • A doctor specializing in elderly care earned $163,000 on average in 2005 compared with $175,000 for a general internist, even though the geriatric specialist required more training.

The report urged that all health-care workers be trained in basic geriatric care and that schools increase training in the treatment of older patients.

Source: "Health System Unprepared for Crush of Aging Boomers," Associated Press, April 14, 2008.

 

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