As Baby Boomers Age, There’s A Health Care Crisis On The Horizon For American Seniors

As the Baby Boomer generation begins to enter their senior years — the first Baby Boomers to hit 65 years old passed that milestone in 2011 — analysts are warning that the impending demographic shift could put a serious drain on the nation’s health resources. Seniors already tend to consume more health care than younger Americans, but Baby Boomers are also expected to be sicker and live longer than previous generations.

Since the United States is continuing to grapple with growing rates of chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes, an aging population could soon signal a health care crisis, a new report from the United Health Foundation finds. “This is a really important time in our nation’s history for us to take a look at this demographic change and the health and behavior outcomes for this population. If we don’t measure it, we won’t know what to do about it,” Rhonda Randall, one of United Health Foundation’s senior advisers, explained.

After analyzing multiple sources of government data, the report found that nearly 8 in 10 seniors are currently living with at least one chronic health condition. And many of those health issues stem from the nation’s ongoing struggle with obesity. About 25 percent of seniors are obese, 20 percent have diabetes, and more than 70 percent have heart disease. Since obesity rates among those ages 50 to 64 increased 8 percent between 1995 to 2010, the next generation of seniors will likely experience higher rates than current seniors do.

The states with the worst health outcomes for seniors are concentrated in the South, where seniors are more likely to live in poverty and lack access to the health treatment they need:

(Credit: USA Today)

Treating those health issues for an aging population won’t come cheap. Americans over 65 spend three to five times more on their health care than adults younger than 65 — and that demographic sector will explode as Baby Boomers continue to age. In 2030, when the entire Baby Boomer generation will have turned 65, seniors will make up one-fourth of the entire population. And, since medical advances are now allowing Americans to live longer, 5.8 million of those seniors are projected to be older than 85.

The report’s findings should be “a heads-up to the providers, and a real heads-up to policy makers,” Jennie Chin Hansen, the CEO of the American Geriatrics Society, told USA Today.

The United Health Foundation’s findings echo previous data that has found that Baby Boomers are sicker than their parents’ generation. Although Baby Boomers are living longer than their parents did, their quality of life has significantly declined, thanks in large part to the wide-ranging public health consequences of the persistent obesity epidemic.