Today, 1 in 7 Americans are 65 and older, and in the next 2 decades the rest of the 77 million baby boomers will move into this demographic. According to a report by the United Health Foundation, baby boomers will become sicker and costlier seniors in the near future. The report looks at the current health status of today’s middle-aged population and compares them to people who were the same age in 1999. Overall, today’s population smokes 50% less, but will have higher rates of diabetes and obesity.
Here are the statistics of where today’s 50-64 year olds will be by the time they reach Medicare Beneficiary status:
- There will be 55% more seniors who have diabetes than today.
- 25% more will be obese.
- 9% less seniors will have very good or excellent health status.
One out of every three Medicare dollars is spent on diabetes-related care. Research indicates between 2009 and 2034, Medicare spending on diabetes is projected to rise from $45 billion to $171 billion. The U.S. spends approximately $174 billion annually on total costs associated with diabetes with $116 billion in direct medical costs.
Baby boomers may be unprepared for the financial impact of declining health status. Healthcare costs for people with diabetes are about 2.5 times higher than for those without, according to the United Health Foundation. A recent study by the Government Accountability Office found that among households aged 55 and older, 29% have no retirement savings or defined benefits savings plan. This study continues, “while middle-aged Americans plan to retire later or continue working during retirement at a higher rate than current seniors to close the gap in savings, chronic diseases could challenge these plans.”
This is bad news for taxpayers. Rhonda Randall, a senior advisor for the United Health Foundation (http://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/05/25/479359856/baby-boomers-will-become-sicker-seniors-than-earlier-generations) and Chief Medical Officer at UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions states, “The dramatic increase has serious implications for the long-term health of those individuals and for the finances of our nation.” Medicare will bear the brunt of the financial burden with additional taxpayer dollars needed to supplement the increase in Medicare expenditures.
Despite the negative statistics, there are some noted positive outcomes. The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report calculates “the strengths, challenges, and highlights of every state to support communities across the nation in taking data-driven action to improve health.”
Successes over the past year include:
- A 9% decrease in preventable hospitalizations
- An 8% decrease in the prevalence of full-mouth teeth extractions.
- A 5% decrease in hip fractures (6.2 to 5.9 hospitalizations per 1,000 Medicare beneficiaries.)
Looking at healthcare successes over a longer timeframe, specifically in the last 3 years, there has been an 18% increase in home health care workers, a 40% increase in hospice care use and a 29% decrease in hospital deaths. “Some of these trends are very good and in the right direction,” Randall states. She indicates that a decrease in smoking shows that it’s possible to change health behaviors, noting that doctors, public health professionals, and policymakers use a variety of strategies to reduce smoking.
The study also ranked states on the health of their current senior population. Massachusetts topped the list this year and Vermont slipped to the number two spot. Louisiana is the least healthy state for older Americans. This is most likely due to the high prevalence of smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity which have been yearly challenges in Louisiana, and new challenges include a low percentage of seniors who visited a dentist in the past year and a high prevalence of food insecurity.
Some action is being taken by the government to attempt to prevent rising Medicare costs for future seniors, such as the Diabetes Prevention Act of 2015. Programs like this that incentivize healthier living in seniors and those approaching senior status. This potentially could be the beginning of reduced spending for Medicare programs, and begin to reverse some of these statistics from this report by 2030. Keeping this in mind, choosing the Medicare plan that makes sense for a patient’s needs will be more important than ever in the near future.