10,000 People Are Now Enrolling In Medicare Every Day
It’s true! About 10,000 people are now enrolling in Medicare every day.
Of course, President Obama wants you to know: He loves America’s seniors. (And is even intimidated by a few of them.)
“The toughest justice on the Supreme Court is also the oldest … the notorious RGB,” Obama joked at Monday’s White House Conference on Aging, name-checking 82-year-old Ruth Bader Ginsburg. The president also warned attendees not to race Diana Nyad, unless they wanted to get dusted by the 65-year-old swimmer.
And thanks to advances in health care and our nation’s safety net, all of America’s seniors are “living longer. They’re living healthier,” Obama added, in a more serious vein.
But here’s a sobering statistic that President Obama glossed over: About 10,000 people are now enrolling in Medicare every day.
That’s a record surge in Medicare enrollment, and it’s expected to continue for the next 15 years, as the Baby Boomers age into their golden years. It also means that the total number of Medicare beneficiaries is expected to double within the next twenty years.
The CBO projects that 80 million Americans will be Medicare-eligible by 2035, if current trends hold.
Some analysts have a name for the wave of change that’s coming — they call it the “silver tsunami.”
And it has huge ramifications for the rest of our economy, and especially for the health care industry.
Older Americans, for instance, generally need more ongoing and expensive care. The government currently spends more than $10,000 per Medicare beneficiary every year, with costs spiking in an enrollee’s last years of life.
“From the government’s perspective, they will spend, on average, nearly $450,000 for the new age 65 Medicare beneficiary during their expected lifetime,” actuaries at the Health Care Cost Institutereported in 2013.
It’s another reason why White House leaders are so insistent on changing how Medicare pays for patient care, in hopes of reining in federal spending. (And there are signs for optimism here; as Margot Sanger-Katz wrote at the New York Times last year, Medicare spending per capita is actually falling.)
America’s changing demographics already are having a noticeable effect.
In the past decade, the number of all U.S. jobs has grown by 6% — but the number of home health jobs has grown by 60%, as more aging Americans with chronic illness need support and care. Meanwhile, more doctors are hanging up their stethoscopes, as anunprecedented number of physicians hit retirement age.
And one driver for Aetna’s $37 billion acquisition of Humana is that Humana is a major player in the Medicare Advantage sector — a rapidly growing insurance market.
There’s another demographic change worth noting: America’s fertility rate has reached a record low.
While total births have been relatively constant — there are nearly 4 million children born in the United States every year — the number of children born per person has fallen dramatically, the CDC reports.
(For contrast, there were nearly 4.3 million births in 1960, when the U.S. population was 180 million, versus 3.9 million births in 2013, when the U.S. population was 317 million.)
That won’t mean much in the short-term. But as the number of elderly Americans steadily climbs as a percentage of the population — about 20% of all Americans will be Medicare-eligible by 2030, up from 13% today — it will put increasing pressure on working-age Americans to support them.
And we’re going to have to grapple with hard questions. How will we pay for a much-bigger Medicare program? And who will care for our seniors?
But some are seeing the humor in the changing face (and needs) of America, too. “Invest in Depends, not Pampers,” the Tenneesse Globe quipped on Sunday.