Date: October 1st, 2008
The 2008 presidential election is upon us and health care reform is at the top of both candidates’ agendas. Democratic Nominee Senator Barack Obama and Republican Nominee Senator John McCain have both offered detailed plans to fix our ailing health care system.
While their plans have very little in common, they both offer solutions to lower skyrocketing health care costs and make health insurance more affordable for more people. Unfortunately, both plans pay too little attention to the approaching silver tsunami.
The Silver Tsunami
Just over two years from now the baby boomers will start celebrating their 65th birthdays. The 78 million of them will double the size of the older population—eventually making it more than 20% of the total U.S. population. They will become the largest Medicare generation in history and will increase the strain on our already weak health care system.
The inevitable senior boom will cause a dramatic increase in the number of people that have chronic diseases. Currently the average 75-year-old has three chronic conditions and takes five prescription medications. These conditions are also expensive—more than 80% of health care spending is for people with chronic conditions.
If the baby boom generation ages with the same health risks, our health care system is sure to break. While the candidates’ plans to increase quality and coverage will go a long way towards dealing with the silver tsunami, there are a number of other issues that our candidates should be addressing:
More Funding for Medical and Aging Research
Accelerating medical research that will help find cures and treatments for chronic conditions is a critical part of relieving the strain on our heath care system. Research aimed at understanding the aging process and how it makes us vulnerable to age-related diseases will also help people live longer and more productive lives, and dramatically reduce the cost of our aging society.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is the nation’s medical research agency and from 1998 to 2003 its budget was doubled. This investment helped produce important breakthroughs in the prevention and treatment of prominent diseases such as stroke, heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. Unfortunately, in recent years funding for the NIH has not even kept up with the rate of inflation—effectively resulting in decreases to the overall budget.
Both candidates have voiced their support for medical research but they offer very few details on how they will encourage investment in innovation. Our next president must lead the charge on keeping the NIH and Americans healthy.
Providing Long-Term Care
Around 10 million Americans currently need long-term care and those numbers are only going to grow as baby boomers live longer and face a higher risk of lost independence from chronic diseases. We spend around $140 billion every year on long-term care, not including the value of informal caregiving from family members and loved ones.
There are more than 45 million unpaid family caregivers that have to balance the demands of work, caregiving, and family. These caregivers often have to miss work days to provide care and end up costing businesses billions of dollars in lost revenue every year. Because there are few policies and programs that support family caregivers, they often have to turn to nursing homes and assisted living facilities which can quickly drain their resources.
We desperately need to change the way long-term care is delivered and financed. Both candidates promise to work on reforming the system but both plans are also very thin on the details. We need a president who recognizes the growing crisis of long-term care and plans to ensure that we all have the care we deserve.
Preparing the Health Care Workforce for an Aging Population
At the same time that people are living longer and facing more complicated medical needs, fewer and fewer health care professionals are being trained in geriatrics. A combination of lack of training, insufficient pay, and poor incentives are pushing us towards a severe shortage of health care professionals that are equipped to deal with our aging population.
We currently have around 7,100 physicians who are certified in geriatrics. By 2030, the number of geriatricians needed to care for our aging population is estimated to be 36,000. Judging by current trends, we are sure to fall far short of that need and will see similar shortages of nurses, physician assistants, psychiatrists, and other members of the health care team.
Without a well-trained workforce of geriatricians who understand the aging process, baby boomers who are expecting to live long and healthy lives will have a hard time finding a doctor who is trained to treat them as they age.
Do Your Homework and Vote
This is a critical time for our health care system and our next president must be ready to lead with a detailed plan for a healthy America. Read more about how Senators Obama and McCain will address the silver tsunami and vote on November 4th to make sure your voice is heard: