Las Vegas Sun

October 24, 2014

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Sun editorial:

Treating Baby Boomers

Growing old gracefully hindered by a lack of doctors and Medicare coverage

The nation’s 78 million Baby Boomers are poised to begin turning 65, and a new federal report says the health care system isn’t prepared to deal with the services that an aging population needs.

The report released Monday by the Institute of Medicine, a division of the National Academy of Sciences, says there aren’t enough specialists in geriatric medicine and there are too few programs to train them. The study also concluded that existing specialists are underpaid and that the Medicare system hinders treatment because it doesn’t allow for the team approach that often is needed in treating older people.

Members of the Baby Boom generation people born from 1946 through 1964 begin turning 65 in 2011. And right now the United States has only one geriatric specialist for every 2,500 older Americans, the report says.

What’s more, the annual turnover rate for nurse’s aides is 71 percent, and 90 percent of home health care aides leave their jobs within two years. Such aides often provide the main day-to-day care of older adults, yet earn less than $10 an hour, on average, and typically lack health insurance and other benefits.

The research team said Medicare falls short because it focuses on treating short-term health problems rather than helping older adults manage chronic or age-related conditions. Medicare also does not adequately cover preventive care or pay for the time doctors spend collaborating with each other on a patient’s care, the report says.

And Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement for treating older people is inadequate, so existing providers of care for older adults are reluctant to take on new patients.

The solution to this impending crisis is complex. Congress, the medical profession and advocates for older Americans need to work together and resolve this situation before it’s too late. Our aging population and the generations of children, grandchildren and taxpayers who will be responsible for their care deserve better.

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