The Baby Boomer Effect and Controlling Health Care Costs

In 2000, the Medicare-eligible population in the United States numbered 35.1 million. By 2030, this number is expected to increase to 69.7 million. This will put Medicare's annual acute care costs around $259.8 billion in 2030. As the baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, reaches retirement age, the need for Medicare and age-related health care services will continue to rise, taking health care expenses upwards with them.

Controlling the rising costs of health care is a major concern for the baby boomer generation, as anticipated expenses outstrip what many retirees have in their savings for these golden years. Health care providers and administrators must take a close look at how expenses are managed in the health care system to seek out innovative ways to keep health care accessible and affordable both for baby boomers and those who follow them. This includes essential actions such as:

  • Ensuring proper staffing is available for health care facilities.
  • Creating senior care facilities that affordably meet the needs of the aging population.
  • Utilizing technology to its full capabilities for better efficiency and lower expenses.
  • Implementing smart workflows that control costs in health care facilities.

The Impact of Baby Boomers on Health Care

The expenses of health care can add up for aging baby boomers.

Aging comfortably as a baby boomer is a major concern. By 2020, retiring baby boomers are expected to more than double Medicare and Medicaid costs. As a result, some pundits anticipate that the Trust Fund will be bankrupt by 2033. Meanwhile, taxes will cover only 48 percent of the associated health care costs. A retired 65-year-old couple can anticipate health care costs of $275,000 out-of-pocket, according to Fidelity Investments. This doesn't include the cost of long-term nursing care or rehabilitation.

Though emerging seniors tend to approach health care expenses as their own personal responsibility, the cost is simply too great for many of them to handle. There's just a 50 percent chance that aging boomers will be able to afford their health care expenses.

Costs for aging baby boomers are expected to be high. This generation is living longer, yet experiencing higher rates of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol, and hypertension. These conditions require long-term care, putting a significant strain on health costs.

Rising health care costs are an issue for all patients, though boomers may feel it worse as they're using a finite amount of retirement savings to deal with it. Health Catalyst reports that consumer prices for inpatient health care services have increased 195 percent over the last 20 years. Prices for outpatient services grew 200 percent. Costs associated with prescription drugs, nursing homes, and adult day services doubled.

How to Improve Health Care for Seniors

Addressing the pending changes to the health care system is crucial. The sooner the baby boomer situation is addressed, the smoother the transition will be to a system that can cater comfortably to the larger aging population.

Increase Health Care Hiring

Aging baby boomers are putting a greater strain on the health care industry in more than one way. As these individuals retire, they're leaving behind a significant number of job openings. With two-thirds of baby boomer nurses considering retirement, it's important to address the question of who will care for boomers as they return to these same health care facilities seeking medical assistance. The New York Times indicates that there is a shortage of nurses, aides, pharmacists, and social workers who are trained to care for the elderly.

Those in administrative positions in health care must address this pending issue by actively seeking replacements for the baby boomers who are leaving the industry. If a shortage of geriatric nurses is anticipated in coming years, the education and training for these professionals must begin now. This means providing greater incentives for young people to join this field. With adequate staffing and well-trained specialists, facilities can provide a better and more streamlined care experience for seniors.

Develop Desirable Residential Communities

The need for senior living communities will likely increase as the baby boomer generation ages. According to the Pew Research Center, about 20 percent of baby boomers are childless, which means that these individuals won't have the traditional safety net of close family to help care for them as they get older. Another 20 percent of boomers are aging alone because they do not have a spouse or partner and their children live more than 500 miles away. This leaves a full 40 percent of individuals over age 65 on their own.

While many solo agers prefer to live independently in single-family homes, this isn't a safe or healthy option for some of them. Older adults who live alone typically struggle more with managing medications, nutrition, and wound treatment. They're more susceptible to scams and often suffer from loneliness. These problems can lead to greater health problems and higher health care costs.

Developers can use innovative approaches to meet the growing need for senior living communities while catering to the independent lifestyle that baby boomers want to live. Communities are more desirable to aging boomers when they promote an active lifestyle with facilities for indoor and outdoor recreation, communal cooking, and cultural events. Offering flexibility in the way of financing options will make these communities more accessible to middle-income earners. Shared units may help as well, with spaces that cater to roommates in addition to couples.

Administrators who keep the distinct needs and preferences of baby boomers in mind can create modern facilities that are highly functional yet distinctly separate from the traditional image of an assisted living center. Designed more like a resort or neighborhood rather than a hospital, these communities may prove highly sought after among the growing number of baby boomers looking for a more manageable lifestyle.

Adopt Technology Mindfully

New technology has the potential to revolutionize health care for baby boomers. However, it's crucial that administrators examine their adoption and integration procedures. Rushing the adoption of new technology results in poor performance, which doesn't deliver the efficiency or effectiveness originally promised for the system or device.

To fully realize the anticipated gains that are available with modern technology, it's important to take the appropriate amount of time to fully train staff members in how to use it. Each new system must be optimized for the health care setting in which it's being implemented. Thoughtful integration requires a close examination of the facility's workflows. Rather than forcing current methods to fit within the new technology, it's often better to adjust and adapt so one can use the new system to its full potential.

In a busy health care environment, setting aside the time and manpower to successfully integrate new technology is a major undertaking. However, administrators who invest the necessary effort in this task can realize great rewards, which will ultimately help cut costs and make better products and services available to the baby boomers who need them.

Streamline Schedules and Workflow

In an effort to increase patient satisfaction, some health care facilities are sacrificing efficiency. This leads to higher health care costs, which are putting a significant strain on baby boomers. Labor is one of the greatest expenses that a health care facility incurs. Providing extended hours on evenings and weekends for patient appointments is convenient for the patient, but costly for the facility. Physicians, nurses, and other staff members are still on staff during the daily slump when appointments aren't as popular, so costs don't fall even as revenue decreases.

Efficient patient workflow is an important concern in hospital settings as well. Overutilization of intensive care units and emergency rooms can create a dangerous trickle-down effect. As these beds are utilized at a higher volume, the length of stay and surgery wait time also increases. The longer a patient stays in the hospital, the greater the risk of infection, which comes with its own slew of cost considerations.

Health care administrators must address these issues and pursue more mindful and efficient schedules and workflows that will minimize waste in all its forms. Filling exam rooms, optimizing surgery schedules, and streamlining the patient's experience from check-in to discharge can help trim expenses at several points in the process.

Health care administrators who keep a keen eye on the bigger picture can help health care facilities plan wisely for the coming needs of the baby boomer generation. As more individuals in this generation reach retirement and beyond, the demand for tailored health care services that meet their distinctive needs will only increase. From the specialized services of geriatric nurses to well-implemented technology that simplifies health care management for independent seniors, there are many things that the health care system can provide to help baby boomers affordably manage their health.

Looking forward, those who are interested in taking an active role in reshaping the health care industry can begin preparing for this profession now. Learn more about the importance of active administrators through the Executive Master of Health Administration Online degree from USC Price. This program will help current and prospective health care administrators explore the intricacies of health administration more deeply. The program features online courses that are designed to be easily accessible, even to busy professionals.


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