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Encore
A blog about living in and planning for retirement

Seniors Face Doctor Shortage

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As the baby boomers reach retirement age, one would think more doctors would be specializing in caring for seniors. In fact, the opposite is true: There’s now a shortage of geriatricians — doctors who focus on treating seniors — and experts say the problem is projected to only get worse.

There is just one geriatrician for every 2,600 people 75 or older, according to the American Geriatrics Society — compared to one pediatrician for every 1,300 children. What’s more, that ratio is expected to grow to one geriatrician to ever 3,800 seniors by 2030, the society projects. One of the reasons for this shortage is that “a career focused on caring for older adults can be particularly financially unattractive for physicians with increasingly large medical school loan debts,” says Jillian Lubarsky, a spokesperson for the society.  That’s because Medicare reimbursement rates are often lower than regular insurance rates, which means that geriatricians sometimes get paid less, she says.

While not every senior needs a geriatrician, these doctors receive specific training in aging-related diseases, so they’re often a sought out  when patients wrestle with illnesses like dementia and arthritis, which disproportionately affect older adults. These doctors also have background in helping older individuals who face multiple illnesses.

The shortage of geriatricians will “without question” lead to worse health care for some seniors, says Marc Agronin, the medical director for mental health and clinical research at Miami Jewish Health Systems. The average older senior is on multiple medications, and while a general family doctor might not know specifics on how all these medications interact, a geriatrician would, he says. Other medications have side effects that may be particularly harmful to older people — though, again, the average doctor might not realize this.  And “treatment goals for people in their 70s vs. people in their 90s can be very different,” Agronin says.

Bottom line: “When you have a skin problem, you open want to see a dermatologist because they’ll have specialized knowledge,” he says. “When you’re older, you often want to see a geriatrician for the same reason.” So, if there are simply not enough of these doctors, seniors may face worse health outcomes.

To help reduce the geriatrician shortage, the American Geriatric Society is working to advance loan forgiveness for those in the geriatrics field, as well as to reform payment practices that currently are sometimes unfavorable to geriatricians.

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    • Medicine is a great profession if you do not mind incredible sacrifice. Long expensive years of training followed by insurance, governmental, legal abuse. Constant new regulations, requirements, price controls, quality assurance measures which impede practice by those with authority but who take no responsibity. The latest plans for ACOs and Medical Homes by CMMS and Dr Donald Berwick will make all Progressives proud. God help us.

    • It is remarkable for intelligent people to actually think and believe that doctors are ever going to make less money. In everything we talk about supply and demand and the free market; but there seems to be a selective amnesia when it comes to health care. The co-pays will go up; insurance companies will continue to make money and the health care worker will never be a pauper…not anywhere on this planet.

    • It is remarkable for intelligent to actually think and believe that doctors are ever going to make less money. In everything we talk about supply and demand and the free market; but there seems to be a selective amnesia when it comes to health care. The co-pays will go up; insurance companies will continue to make money and the health care worker will never be a pauper…not anywhere on this planet.

    • I don’t feel so bad for them. Their peers should have thought twice before walking around in their white coats in DC. They did it to themselves.

    • Who in their right mind would want to go into medicine. The future holds pay cuts for as far as the eye can see, demonization as the drivers of health care runaway costs and rampant medical error, yet still with the expectation that every patients care be complete, compassionate, free, and the outcomes perfect or a lawsuit will follow. No, I couldn’t advise such a career to anyone.

About Encore

  • Encore examines the changing nature of retirement, from new rules and guidelines for financial security to the shifting identities and priorities of today’s retirees. The blog also explores news that affects retirement, from the Wall Street Journal Digital Network and around the web. Lead bloggers are reporter Catey Hill and senior editor Jeremy Olshan. Other contributors include The Wall Street Journal’s retirement columnists Glenn Ruffenach and Anne Tergesen; the Director for the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, Alicia Munnell; and the Director of Research for Pinnacle Advisory Group, Michael Kitces, CFP.

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