It’s no secret that us baby boomers will live longer than our ancestors. But there’s a grim reality. In doing so we will feel older and sicker.
A study by Dr. Dana King recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association’s (JAMA) Internal Medicine shows that our final years of life will probably be worse than those of our parents. And it’s already happening. King’s survey reports that only 13 percent of those born between 1946 and 1964 say they are in excellent health — compared with 33 percent of the previous generation.
It’s our own fault. Despite the feeling that we’re always racing against the clock, baby boomers are notorious couch potatoes. Nearly 40 percent of us are obese and more than half do not exercise regularly. We are legendary pill-poppers of the legal drugs advertised on TV, and 7 percent already depend on a cane or walker to get around.
So is there any good news? Yes. Fewer of us are developing emphysema and having heart attacks, mostly because we stopped smoking.
King is family health professor at the West Virginia School of Medicine, a state whose motto coincidentally is “almost heaven.” But in a recent interview with National Public Radio, the doctor said the baby boom generation is on a prescription for late-life hell, both medically … and financially.
We could live two or three years longer than our parents, she says, but spend that time “burdened with diabetes, hypertension and obesity. We are becoming dependent on medications and surgical solutions.”
Medicare doesn’t care for everything
Steve Weisbart, chief economist for the Insurance Information Institute, says King’s analysis is “unduly pessimistic.” But he agrees that baby boomers should “save their money and plan for a long retirement.”
But will our savings, Social Security and Medicare be enough to offset the increasing cost of medications and surgical procedures required to keep us going?
Probably not. Remember that three of the four parts of Medicare — Parts B, C and D — which cover pharmaceuticals, gaps in coverage, and doctors’ copays, testing and even some hospital procedures, are voluntary, and that their monthly cost will go up as more of us use them. But if we don’t sign up at age 65 for Parts B, C and D we leave ourselves vulnerable to even costlier coverage if we opt to purchase it later on. New therapies for elderly ailments are on the way, such as diabetes reversal and needle-free injections, but every medical advance carries a high price tag.
Next stop, nursing home
Then there’s the nursing home quandary. Medicare does not cover long-term care. Living longer, but in poor health, means assisted living or nursing home care for years rather than months. More than 70 percent of baby boomers will need some form of long-term care and 40 percent will end up in a nursing home.
Long-term care insurance can help pay for this so insurers recommend it. “A private long-term care insurance market is a necessary part of our system,” says spokesperson Whit Cornman of the American Council of Life Insurers.
But, as more people use the system, costs go up while coverage comes down. Will the 78-million baby boom generation be able to keep up payments on an insurance plan that is climbing by 6 percent each year?
Over wrought and overweight
And the worst part of all is that Generation Xers — and our children’s children — are looking at an even worse prognosis in terms of obesity, with 33 percent of those aged 20 to 39 already considered to be overweight.
So it just might be time for all of us to consider these two alternatives: slim down or pay up.