Physician Workforce: Legal Immigrants will Extend Baby Boom Demands

One Pagers | Oct 15, 2005 Martey Dodoo, PhD; Robert Phillips, MD, MSPH; Larry Green, MD; Ginger Ruddy, MD; Jessica McCann, MD; Lawrence Klein, PhD

The baby boom generation will place large demands on the Medicare program and the U.S. health care system. These demands may be extended by a large legal immigrant population that will become Medicare-eligible soon after the baby boom generation does. The U.S. health care system should be prepared for sustained stress from this aging population.

The aging of the baby boom generation or age cohort (born 1947 to 1966) will result in a disproportionately large segment of the U.S. population being older than 65 years beginning in 2012.1 The sizable effect the aging of baby boomers will have on the health care system may be extended into the future by legal immigrants, who account for almost one half of the net annual increase in the U.S. population (see accompanying table).2

Table. Components of Change in the U.S Population, 2000 to 2003

PopulationAnnual average (million)
Population: Natural increase*Annual average (million): 1.6
Population: Net immigration increaseAnnual average (million): 1.3
Population: Net changeAnnual average (million): 2.9
Population: *-Births minus deaths.
Source: Information from reference 2.

The age distribution of these new immigrants,3 when compared with that of the general population in 2002,4 shows a relatively large group of persons between 25 and 44 years of age, who will become eligible for Medicare after the baby boomers do (see accompanying figure).3,4

Source: Information from references 3 and 4.

The future population of the United States will include more older adults, as not only the baby boomers, but also these new immigrants age. An increased need for medical care by an older population probably will continue for a longer period than was anticipated.

References

  1. Green LA, Dodoo MS, Ruddy G, Fryer GE, Phillips RL, McCann JL, et al. The physician workforce of the United States: a family medicine perspective. Washington, D.C.: Robert Graham Center, 2004.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau, Population Division.
  3. U.S. Department of Homeland Security. 2003 Yearbook of immigration statistics. Table 6.
  4. U.S. Census Bureau. Statistical abstract of the United States. 2002.

The information and opinions contained in research from the Graham Center do not necessarily reflect the views or the policy of the AAFP. 

Published in American Family Physician, Oct 15, 2005. Am Fam Physician. 2005;72(8:1459. This series is coordinated by Sumi Sexton, MD, AFP Associate Medical Editor.