Baby boomers near retirement not as healthy as their predecessors were!

A National Institute on Aging (NIA)-supported, National Bureau of Economic
Research (NBER) research published in early March 2007, suggests that Americans in their early to mid-50s today report poorer health. They have more pain and more trouble carrying out everyday physical activities than their older peers said that they did when they were the same age1.

The report is part of NBER's Working Paper series scheduled for publication in a refereed volume from Oxford University Press in 2007. The study, which among others rated health, trouble with physical mobility and agility, and perception of physical pain showed that baby boomers nearing retirement besides being less likely than their older peers were to rate their health as "excellent or very good", reported more pain, drinking, and chronic medical and psychiatric problems.

They were also likelier to report problems in walking, climbing steps, getting up from a chair, kneeling or stooping, and carrying out other customary daily physical activities. Are today’s baby boomers nearing retirement going to retire in worse health than current retirees do therefore? What implications would this have for healthcare costs and for health spending billed, for the U.S to double over the next decade to over 4 trillion dollars per year, 20 cents/dollar spent on healthcare by 2016, 19.6% of GDP2?

According to 2006 estimates, U.S current health spending amounts to 2.1 trillion dollars per year, or 16 cents in every dollar2. With significant percentages of health spending in the country attributable to population aging, at in least in part, and as baby boomers become eligible for Medicare, spending growth on prescription drugs also increasing, projected at an average of 8.6% yearly, or almost $500 billion in 2016, over twice current, 2006, figures2, the findings in this report are doubtless of concern.

Incidentally, chronic disability among older Americans has dropped significantly, more so and fastest during the past twenty years, according to a report from the National Long-Term Care Survey (NLTCS) published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in early December 20063,4. The report noted a fall from 26.5% in 1982 to 19% in 2004/2005 in the prevalence of chronic disability among persons 65 years and older, which indicates a noteworthy improvement in seniors’ health and function in an aging population.

With the NBER report following on previous reports indicating that the obesity epidemic is an important driver of the rates of diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, it would be important to know if its findings constitute aspects of a disability spectrum along with those related to obesity, and would persist, decline, or increase as baby boomers retire. Surely, this would have key policy implications in health and housing planning among others for these individuals in particular as they become 65 years in just four years.


References:

1. Soldo, B.J. et al. Cross-Cohort Differences in Health on the Verge
of Retirement. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper 12762. Cambridge, MA: National Bureau of Economic Research (2007).

2. Poisal JA, Truffer C, Smith S, Sisko A, Cowan A, Keehan S, Dickensheets B. Health Spending Projections Through 2016: Modest Changes Obscure Part D's Impact. Health Affairs, doi: 10.1377/hlthaff.26.2.w242 (Published online February 21, 2007)

3. "Disability Among Older Americans Continues Significant Decline"
Available at: http://www.nia.nih.gov/NewsAndEvents/PressReleases/PR20061201DisabilityDecline.htm Accessed on March 5, 2007

4. Manton, K.G., et al. Change in chronic disability from 1982 to 2004/2005 as measured by long-term changes in function and health in the U.S. elderly population. "PNAS" (2006), 103(48):18374-9.