The second milestone was the trashing of 3 major government programs that have been funding geriatric education for years. Reportedly, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist knew that the senators wanted to deal with the budget and did not want to have to come back after the holidays, so he rushed through a voice vote on the measure. The vote was tied 50-50, with Vice President Cheney casting the tie-breaking vote. The 3 programs that were consigned to the dustbin collectively cost $31.5 million in 2005. The total estimated federal spending over the next 5 years will be $14.3 trillion.
One of the victims is the Geriatric Training Program for Physicians, Dentists, and Mental Health Professionals which offered 1- or 2-year programs to train geriatric academicians. I was Director of the Harvard Geriatrics Fellowship Program for years and we relied heavily on government support to provide stipends to young doctors and dentists who wanted to specialize in geriatrics. We were able to offer our fellows a broad exposure to hospital care, outpatient care, rehabilitative care, and nursing home care, as well as a year to begin developing expertise in research. Our fellows went on to become prominent researchers, teachers, and practitioners. The government funded 13 such programs in 2005 and will fund 0 in 2006.
The second program that was axed is the Geriatric Academic Career Award initiative, which provided stipends to junior faculty members who were committed to teaching geriatrics. There are very few opportunities for physicians to develop expertise and experience in teaching. This was one way to be launched on a teaching career. In 2005, awards were given to 102 promising young professionals. In 2006, there will be none.
Finally, funding for the nation’s Geriatric Educational Centers was eliminated. These Centers offered educational programs to health care professionals to train them in issues of importance to the health of older individuals. Since the Centers were introduced 20 years ago, they have touched the lives of over 425,000 professionals in 27 disciplines, according to the National Association of Geriatric Education Centers. All 50 states had such Centers. They will all disappear. (See the article in the Boston Globe on
The third landmark is that on January 1, 2006, the first of the 76 million baby boomers turned age 60. There was a fair amount of hoopla about this in the media. Congress and the President do not seem to have noticed.