Seniors Face Economic Barriers to Better Health


Last updated 10/9/2017 at 9:01am | View PDF

America's seniors are seeing improvements in clinical care but are facing significant economic barriers to better health, according to the key findings from United Health Foundation's fifth annual America's Health Rankings Senior Report. Accompanying the report is new survey data, released in partnership with the Alliance for Aging Research, highlighting risks of health savings shortfalls among current and future seniors and uncertainty about future health care savings needs.

The report finds continued notable improvements in care quality and outcomes since 2013, including:

• a 25% reduction in preventable hospitalizations for Medicare beneficiaries age 65+;

• a 30% decrease in hospital deaths among Medicare decedents age 65+;

• a 7% decrease in hospital readmissions among Medicare beneficiaries age 65+; and

• a 9% reduction in visits to the ICU in the last six months of life among Medicare decedents age 65+.

Sixty-two percent of retired seniors age 65+ and nearly three out of four non-retired adults age 50 to 64 have less in total retirement savings than what experts recommend saving for health care costs alone.

Current and future seniors with retirement savings of $20,000 or less are more likely to be in poor health and have chronic disease compared to those with higher rates of retirement savings.

Fifty percent of retired seniors and 36% of non-retired adults age 50-64 don't know or have no opinion of how much money their households will need for both anticipated and unexpected health care costs during retirement.

California Ranks 16th in Senior Health

Minnesota is the healthiest state for seniors, rising from fourth place last year, while Mississippi drops two spots to become the state with the greatest opportunity for improvement in senior health. Among rankings, the report found: Utah (2), Hawaii (3), Colorado (4), New Hampshire (5) and Massachusetts (6) round out the healthiest states for seniors.

In addition to Mississippi, Kentucky (49), Oklahoma (48), Louisiana (47), Arkansas (46) and West Virginia (45) have the greatest opportunities to improve seniors' health and well-being.

California and South Dakota made the greatest strides to improve their health rankings over the past year. California jumped from 28 to 16 in the rankings, primarily due to decreases in smoking prevalence, physical inactivity and obesity. South Dakota improved its rank from 25 to 15 due to factors like a decrease in preventable hospitalizations, and an increase in excellent or very good health status and health screenings.

"Though clinical care for our nation's seniors is improving, new data in this report show that seniors are facing higher social and economic barriers that are putting their overall health at risk," said Rhonda Randall, D.O., senior adviser to United Health Foundation and chief medical officer and executive vice president, UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions. "Rising rates of obesity and food insecurity, especially when paired with the potential shortfalls in health care savings of many current and future seniors, underscore the need for action to help seniors live healthier lives."

"We are encouraged by the improving quality of care current seniors are receiving, yet more needs to be done to help prepare current and future older adults to meet the costs of this care," said Susan Peschin, MHS, president and CEO of Alliance for Aging Research. "We're grateful for the opportunity to partner with United Health Foundation to draw needed attention to this under-discussed aspect of senior health. We hope this report sparks conversation among seniors, family caregivers and advocates about ways to solve these ongoing affordability and cost-transparency challenges."


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