The headline message in the survey of 1,049 Baby Boomers for physician network MDVIP is blatant. Boomers know what they should be doing to stay healthy; they just aren't not doing it. That can present substantial ramifications for their ability to earn money and stay healthy into retirement to keep expensive treatments at bay.
Said MDVIP: “Three out of four say they should be doing more to better manage their health (74%). Half of Boomers (46%) say they don’t exercise regularly, and more than a third say they don’t eat healthy (35%) or get sufficient sleep (37%).”
Similar numbers come out of a survey by digital health platform ZocDoc that found 80% of Americans admit they are delaying or forgoing preventive care.
Here is what is ahead for many Boomers, said the experts: longer lives due to better medical procedures but diminished quality of life due to Boomer neglect of the basics.
That’s a grim forecast. The question is why aren’t Boomers doing what they know they should to stay healthy? Experts are ready with answers. Blame is heaped - in almost equal amounts - on doctors, the government and of course on Boomers themselves.
Start with how Boomers are fueling their own health doom.
“The attitudes of Baby Boomers are not surprising," said MDVIP Medical Director Dr. Bernard Kaminetsky. "They have a sense of invincibility that is almost adolescent.”
He pointed specifically to the 43% of Boomers in the MDVIP survey who said it would take a life-threatening diagnosis for them to get more engaged in trying to stay healthy. The trouble with that, said Kaminetsky, is that often the quick result of a “life-threatening diagnosis” is death - with no opportunity to change course by committing to exercise, weight loss, reduced alcohol consumption and the other proven ways to maintain better health in old age.
More proof that Boomers are indifferent to self-help? “A significant percentage of prescriptions go unfilled,” said Kaminetsky.
A landmark study in Canada for instance found that 31% of prescriptions go unfilled.
But maybe part of the blame for that falls on the doctors who wrote the prescriptions.
“Providers prescribe medications but don’t always explain why," explained Isaac Martinez, Cigna medical director. "They don’t tell the benefit. And you may not feel any better. You may have side effects.” A statin usually is prescribed to lower cholesterol and to thereby reduce the likelihood of a coronary event - stroke or heart attack - but taking the pill as such does not leave a patient feeling better. And so some people shrug it off, said Martinez.
Kaminetsky joined in heaping blame on physicians. He said that for many Boomers, the primary care experience is a failure. He pointed to survey numbers that indicated 31% of Boomers said they spend more time sitting in the waiting room than they actually spend with their doctor. Boomers, said Kaminetsky, want a health coach - and for many the primary care physician just does not do it.
A third reason Boomers may ignore medical advice: they are justifiably skeptical about many health claims. Medical experts flip flop on topics such as red wine, statins, ideal weight even salt. Who’s a consumer to trust? Maybe no one is the smart answer.
Costs also figure into Boomer behavior, said nurse Michelle Katz.
Katz elaborated on why Boomers often don’t follow the basic health guidelines. “The simple answer is insurance doesn't cover a lot of these things and/or is just too expensive," she said. "If people knew how to navigate through the system and not go broke in the process, many Boomers would follow ‘health guidelines.’”
That last is fact. Already five plus years of Boomers - leading edge Boomers born from 1945 - 1950 - are in Medicare and that program, in most of its varieties, covers only some health care costs. And many of those Boomers are retired, many on fixed incomes. So they want to manage health care costs.
Ditto working Boomers who probably have seen co-pays sky rocketing in employer provided insurance.
So skipping treatment may seem to be the shortest path to frugal living. Of course, in the long run, foregoing preventative treatment can exacerbate costs for the more serious ailments that develop.
This article is commentary by an independent contributor. At the time of publication, the author held TK positions in the stocks mentioned.