updated 4/24/2007 2:49:13 PM ET 2007-04-24T18:49:13

The aging baby boom generation is likely to increase the nation’s disabled population, and a study says the United States needs a better system to provide care for them.

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More than 40 million Americans currently have some sort of disability, the Institute of Medicine reported Tuesday.

And a decline in physical activity and increase in obesity and diabetes in younger generations raises concerns that, as the nation ages, an increasing share of the population will experience disability, the Institute said.

“The number of Americans who have disabilities will grow significantly in the next 30 years as the baby boom generation enters late life,” said Alan M. Jette, director of the Health and Disability Research Institute at the Boston University School of Public Health.

“If one considers people who now are disabled, those likely to develop a future disability and people who are or will be affected by the disabilities of family members or others close to them, it becomes clear that disability will eventually affect the lives of most Americans,” said Jette, chairman of the committee that prepared the report.

He added: “The sobering reality, however, is that over the past two decades, far too little progress has been made in adopting major public policy and practice advances to reduce disability in America.”

The Institute of Medicine is a branch of the National Academy of Sciences, which is an independent organization chartered by Congress to advise the government on scientific matters.

In a previous report in 1997, IOM said the federal research into disability was inadequate and called for more.

Nonetheless, the new report says, federal spending on this research remains “minuscule in relation to current and future needs.”

The study concluded that action “taken sooner rather than later — is essential for the nation to avoid a future of harm and inequity and, instead, to improve the lives of people with disabilities.”

Among the recommendations, the report called on the Congress and federal agencies to:

  • Increase funding for research into clinical health services, social, behavioral and other disability problems.
  • Strengthen provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act to ensure that health care facilities are accessible to the disabled.
  • Eliminate the two-year waiting period for Medicare eligibility for those who are receiving Social Security Disability Insurance.
  • Modify the “in-home-use” requirement for Medicare coverage of durable medical equipment. That requirement now prevents payment for equipment that can be used both in and outside the home, the report said.
  • Increase educational programs for health professionals caring for the disabled.
  • Develop a system for monitoring the number and types of disabled people through the National Center for Health Statistics, Census Bureau and Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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