Baby Boomers Face Doctor Shortage

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A disaster is what health care experts are predicting as the baby boomer generation starts turning 65. That means medical professionals will not only be seeing more elderly patients, but treating the diseases that affect them, like dementia, bone and joint ailments and vision impairment.

Yet, as CBS News Correspondent Bobbi Harley reports, doctors, nurses and pharmacists have little or no expertise in caring for senior citizens and medical schools aren't teaching them.

"There are only three out of 125 that really train doctors for the largest segment of our population," says Sen. John Breaux, D-La. "It's something that cannot continue.

"We're headed for a real cliff."

By 2010, more than 39 million Americans will be senior citizens. That number jumps to 69 million people by 2030, and by 2050 the elderly population will count more than 80 million Americans over the age of 65.

"As a society, we are in denial that our health care system is really a geriatric health system," says Daniel Perry, executive director of Alliance for Aging Research.

Already senior citizens make up half of all patients. But, ironically, there's a glut of medical professionals specializing in infant care — often a more prestigious and much more lucrative practice than geriatrics.

"There's no incentive," says Dr. Bernard Roos, of the University of Miami Medical School. "Everybody wants to be a gastroenterologist, or a cardiologist or a neurosurgeon."

In ten years Roos has trained only 50 geriatricians. Primarily, he blames budget cuts to Medicare, the government health insurance program for seniors.

"The reimbursement for those patients is so low, you will actually lose money," says Roos.

And that is costing the rest of America money. Experts say better geriatric treatment could save more than $50 billion in one year alone, but that still has not been enough incentive for change.

"We've got less than ten years to get it right before it starts directly affecting the baby boomer generation," says Perry

It's already a crisis for today's seniors.

Some of whom consider themselves lucky to escape the coming crunch.