Thursday, January 17, 2008

Health Care and Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are now reaching retirement. It's hard to believe that those kids first born after World War II are now ready for for Social Security. Who knew that Boomers would be the first generation to have one of the greatest economic impacts in American history? And as this group starts to retire this decade, there will be a huge impact on health care needs for them, the government, and the health care system. And according to a recent survey released by the Robert Half group, Boomer retirement will also significantly impact the workplace. By 2010, 76 million will begin to be eligible. The watershed moment of aging for this generation, of which I am one, started in 2006. Every 7.5 seconds a Boomer will be turning 60 for another 17 years from now.

Most Americans do not grow old gracefully; they stumble into it with little to no planning for their health care in their mature years. All of a sudden, they wake up one morning and feel "old." Many people get there faster than they realize, and then they have to worry about how they are going to pay for expenses that were once taken for granted as part of their employer-paid health plan. Ooops! Now it's too late for many people who never watched their health as closely as they should have; and based on income levels, Americans with less household income are going to be more concerned about improving physical health than any other issue. A recent survey by AARP released in 2007 indicates that about a third of individuals 60 and older are physically doing worse than they anticipated.

Boomer lifestyles can lead to major health issues. Although some do a really good job of keeping physically and mentally fit, others work too much and are fatigued at the end of the day with the responsibilities of their job as well as pressures at home from children, aging parents, household chores, and more. There is little time left for a fitness regimen, sufficient sleep or rest, and proper eating habits. Also, stress is a major factor in leading to health problems for many Boomers. Too often, Americans are overweight and inactive. This type of lifestyle, especially for those 60 and above, will definitely cause a reduced quality of life and lead to a rise in health care costs. Although most people anticipate retirement as a good thing, we need to have a sense of purpose to live longer, better lives. Many studies have shown that being challenged both physically, spiritually, and mentally will definitely increase our standard of living as we grow older.

Additionally, as Boomers get older, this demographic group will need some form of long term care. Getting older is an inevitable fact. Spending on health care issues continues to increase with nursing home and home health care costs going up as well. Costs for prescription drugs, physician services, hospital care, and other health care services have risen. It really costs more now than ever to be sick. Boomers who delay health issues until they become either catastrophic or impossible to ignore are forcing themselves into paying more for health care. The Baltimore Business Journal reported this month that health care spending in the U.S. hit $2.2 trillion in 2006. The real challenge is to figure out how we can get the best value for what we spend.

Increased health care spending has definitely brought most Americans longer life, better health, and more options than in the past. However, too much money is wasted with costs spiraling upward, and we have sometimes little to show for the expense. Also, although more often the exception than the rule, health care fraud is a definite contributor that increases health care costs. Boomers have many options now that our parents did not have. There are more medications on the market that treat illnesses that once were considered untreatable, and there are more technologies available to diagnose health issues that were at one time medical mysteries. More money goes into research and development, and much more emphasis now is spent on transparency in health care. So, there are advances in health care for Americans, but they are not cheap.

Major decisions about how Boomers what happens with their health care will not only affect the industry itself, but also make a critical difference in the status of their own health, wellness, and lifestyle in their later years. To function effectively, Boomers will need to keep up their health for longer time frames. As Americans live longer, we will need to adjust to stretching our financial ability to pay for health care expenses not covered by either government or private programs. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle will enable Boomers to endure the economic challenges of aging.

Until next time. Let me know what you think.

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