[Editor's note: It would appear that a good portion of America's healthcare financing challenges are being laid at the feet of baby boomers. In fact, boomers - the largest generation America has ever known - are at the convergence of getting older and technological improvements in medicine. Hence, it's easy for politicians and others to blame boomers. We believe there is an undercurrent of that in this story.]
There’s good news and not so good news for baby boomers who have lived active lifestyles or have arthritis. It may result to wearing out joints, like knees. When that happens, there has been a sharp increase in total knee replacement, as technology improves.
Baby boomers requiring knee replacement surgery are merely the tip of the iceberg in the soaring increase seen in knee replacement surgeries in the last two decades for people on Medicare. In a recent article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, a study of knee replacements in Medicare recipients from 1991 through 2010 revealed an increased incidence of the surgery by 161.5 percent.
Knee Replacement Surgery
Surgical replacement of a knee, total knee arthroplasty, TKA, is done to decrease pain and stiffness in the knee, allowing the patient more functional mobility and to decrease pain. Knee joints wear out over time and use; the more physically active a person is — depending on the type of activity — the more chances are that one or both knees will develop problems. Being overweight or obese also takes a toll on knee joints.
MayoClinic.com explains that usually, TKA is performed on people age 55 and over, although younger people with severely disabled knees may require the surgery as well. Since the majority of Medicare recipients are age 65 and older, this means the actual number of TKAs done were even higher than those accounted for by the JAMA study.
The surgery is costly ; $11,000 to $45,000 per knee. JAMA study authors note that total knee arthroplasty is one of the most common and most costly surgeries currently being performed. In the study period, 3.2 million Medicare beneficiaries underwent a TKA; even figuring a surgery cost at the lowest end of the spectrum, that $3.2 billion for new knees.
Although the study authors were interested in the medical perspective of the surgery’s numbers, use and outcome, the information is also useful to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in determining costs and budgets for Medicare. Baby boomers are turning age 65 at the rate of 8,000 per day.