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Planning for healthy aging

(ARA) - In just two short years, the first wave of baby boomers will turn 65. For some, this milestone birthday may signal retirement; for others it may not. For all boomers, it should mean an increased focus on health care. Baby boomers can take steps now to help ensure many more healthy years.

A focus on early prevention including regular tests for certain cancers and heart disease, a healthy diet and exercise is an important start to staying healthy well into the golden years.

Most baby boomers will count on Medicare to support them in their efforts to stay healthy. In fact, Medicare has long been a source of comfort for those 65 and older who otherwise wouldn't have health coverage. But as more people older than 65 seek care, they may find it increasingly difficult to get in to see a doctor, or they may find that their choice of doctors is limited because of planned Medicare payment cuts to physicians.

"As we age, we have an increasing role to play in our health care to ensure our golden years are healthy ones," says Dr. J. James Rohack, president of the American Medical Association. "Have regular discussions with your physician about any health problems or concerns you may have and make sure you are up-to-date on preventive exams."

At age 50, it's important to start annual exams for colorectal cancer, and men should have a prostate exam. For those boomers who weigh less than 154 pounds, screenings for osteoporosis should start at age 60. It's also important to start annual exams with a physician before you reach age 65 to:

* Monitor and discuss blood pressure, cholesterol, needed vaccines and tests to monitor or prevent disease.
* Identify activities and goals to address healthy eating, physical activity, tobacco use cessation, moderating alcohol use and attention to stress and mood.
* Discuss screenings needed to prevent and/or monitor degenerative or chronic disorders in vision, hearing, bone density, cancer and obesity.

Access to care, choice of physician
Weighing in with legislators is another way boomers can take charge of their health care, because what happens in Washington in the next couple months, with regards to the health-reform debate, could have a significant impact on their ability to see their doctor of choice.

A recent AMA/AARP poll shows that nearly 90 percent of people 50 and older are concerned that the current Medicare physician payment formula threatens their access to care. Without permanent repeal of the broken Medicare payment system as part of health reform, physicians face steep payment cuts which might force them to limit the number of new Medicare patients they can treat.

"Without health-reform action by Congress, the 21 percent payment cut planned for this January puts many physicians in the difficult position of not being able to treat new Medicare patients and still keep their practice doors open," says Rohack. "For years, Congress has taken short-term action to stop the cuts and preserve seniors' access to care, but they can no longer put a Band-Aid on the problem. It's time for permanent action to preserve the stability and security of Medicare and ensure seniors can keep their choice of physician."

As the health system reform debate continues, and final legislation approaches, a permanent fix for the broken Medicare physician payment formula must be included to preserve access to care for the millions of baby boomers headed toward Medicare enrollment age. Replacing the physician payment formula with a system that better reflects the costs and practice of 21st century medical care will help improve quality and reduce costs by allowing physicians to increase care coordination, reduce costly hospital admissions and adopt health information technology.

"I encourage all baby boomers to take preventive action now to prepare for a long, healthy life, and to ensure that their physician will still be there for them when they begin relying on Medicare," says Rohack.

Courtesy of ARAcontent




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