A February 13th article in the NY Times entitled States Aim Ax at Health Cost of Retirement by Steven Greenhouse discusses the “the soaring expense of health benefits for millions of retired state and local workers.” This issue as explained in the article is a ticking time bomb that a number of states and municipalities have identified and begun to address. The typical solution has been to look at pushing a greater burden of these cost onto retirees along with trimming the benefits packages.
While this will certainly have some impact over the short term , it will only delay the inevitable increase in costs due to the ever growing burden of illness the newly retired will bring with them into the system. As Dr. Loeppke our Vice Chairman and many others have called it, this “Silver Tsunami” of baby boomers entering the retirement years will overload the system.
We used to associate many chronic diseases such as heart disease and type 2 diabetes with retirement; these were diseases of the aged. Unfortunately, as we know all too well, we have a growing prevalence of preventable chronic diseases occurring in a younger and younger population.
Using a bucket and spigot analogy, the solutions proposed by most groups are working to make the bucket more efficient and shared (we now have two buckets; one funded by the government and one funded by the employer), but the proposals do not address the increasing flow into the bucket caused by of an increasing prevalence of pre-retirees with preventable chronic diseases.
To truly bend the trend over the long term, states and cities should also seek to improve the health of their employees prior to their entering their retirement years. This is the gist of Preventive Medicine and why states should be implementing robust prevention/wellness programs for their employees today, in order to lower current health care costs and improve productivity as well as reduce the future health care costs of those employees during their retirement.
Please feel free to contact me should you like more information on this topic.