A monumental event came and went last year without much fanfare: The first of the Baby Boomers turned 65. It is unlikely, however, that they will move quietly into their silver years. This will be especially true when it comes to how they access healthcare. Boomers will begin to have a seismic impact on the U.S. healthcare system in 2012 and after as they continue to enter their senior years, influencing major changes in care delivery and financing over the next forty years. By 2050, the number of U.S. adults over age 65—including Boomers and their children—is expected to increase 138 percent.
Baby Boomers will have a Lasting Impact of Healthcare and Hospitals
Born between 1946 and 1964, the Baby Boomers have shaken up nearly every decade of their lives, starting with public protests and a cultural revolution in the 1960s to ushering in bold innovations in food, music, technology, travel, and housing through their middle years. In addition to their significant cultural impact, Baby Boomers have other unique characteristics that make them a standout generation compared to their parents.
Unique Demographics and Healthcare Characteristics of Baby Boomers
Why do aging Boomers pose such a challenge to the healthcare system? While they have enjoyed greater overall health status, mobility, quality of life, and longevity than previous generations of seniors, Boomers are afflicted with serious health problems such as chronic disease and obesity. At approximately 78 million strong, Boomer citizens are going to demand costly healthcare services to treat these conditions as they grow older (U.S. Census Bureau, 2006). In 2006, Medicare spent around $10,200 per beneficiary, but this number is expected to jump to $16,800 by 2030 (Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Academies, 2008). What’s more, national health expenditures are projected to more than double from roughly $2 billion in 2005 to $4.6 billion in 2020.
Altering the HealthCare Workforce and its Required Training
The Boomer population is driving the need for a larger and more specialized healthcare workforce at a time when shortages already exist. Moreover, these workers will require additional training in school and in the care environment. According to an Institute of Medicine (2008) Report, “the geriatric discipline has failed to thrive in numbers and stature, and the level of geriatric training among most providers remains limited, too.” As Boomers become the largest users of healthcare, due to their age and unique demographics, changes are already afoot to accommodate these influencers.
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