As Baby Boomers Age, Knee Replacement Surgery Numbers Soar

Yahoo Contributor Network

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 an article published in The Journal of the American Medical Association today, 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.

Why Worry About Knee Replacement Surgery?

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.

Peter Cram, MD, MBA, lead author of the TKA study, put it into perspective for Fiercehealthcare.com by saying the industry can only absorb the costs of so many surgeries. Limiting the procedure and deciding who will and who won't receive it will be a "really contentious debate."

Bottom Line

Currently, attending physicians make the determination as to if and when a person requires a knee replacement based on the current standards of care. Will that remain the same for the foreseeable future? If not, what criteria will be added?

Baby boomers, your generation has always made an impact on the economy since your births. There's little doubt that the health needs of your aging knees will be any different. Perhaps now is the time to take whatever preventive steps you can to ensure the longevity of the knee joints God gave you.

Smack dab in the middle of the baby boomer generation, L.L. Woodard is a proud resident of "The Red Man" state. With what he hopes is an everyman's view of life's concerns both in his state and throughout the nation, Woodard presents facts and opinions based on common-sense solutions.

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