Report: Seniors healthier, but retirement savings will matter for future results

Dive Brief:

  • America’s seniors are enjoying better healthcare than ever before, but rising costs and health savings shortfalls could put seniors’ health at risk in the future, according to UnitedHealth Group’s 2017 America’s Health Rankings Senior Report.
  • Since 2013, preventable hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries 65 and older have fallen by 25% and hospital readmissions are down by 7%. The report also shows declines in hospital deaths (30%) and visits to the ICU in the last six months of life (9%).
  • However, 62% of retired seniors over 65 and nearly three-fourths of working adults age 50 to 64 have not built up adequate health savings to meet future needs.

Dive Insight:

Over the past 50 years, the number of Americans over age 65 has more than doubled, according to an August 2016 report by the Congressional Budget Office. Medicare outlays are expected to remain at about 3% of the Gross Domestic Product until 2018 and then increase on an annual basis through 2026. The result will be an uptick in the annual federal budget shortfall of $1.2 trillion in 2026, mainly due to spending on healthcare and retirement programs.

The size of a person’s retirement savings can predict future health, according to the report, which was released in collaboration with the Alliance for Aging Research. Seniors and future retirees with $20,000 or less in savings are more likely to have chronic diseases and other health problems than those with larger savings.

But half of retired seniors and 36% of those in the younger age group said they didn’t know how much money they’d need to pay for anticipated and unexpected healthcare costs.

Still, for those who can afford it, clinical care is improving outcomes and longevity. A 2016 study in JAMA Internal Medicine found the incidence of dementia among Americans 65 and older dropped from 11.6% in 2000 to 8.8% in 2012, in part due to better education and control of cardiovascular risk factors.

But while older Americans have more health issues, they lag behind their younger counterparts in seeking medical information on the internet. A report last year in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that just 18% of Medicare beneficiaries in a national aging study used symptom checkers and other online sources to improve their health.

Minnesota topped the states as the healthiest place for seniors, followed by Utah, Hawaii, Colorado and New Hampshire. California and South Dakota showed the most improvement, moving from 28th to 15th place in the rankings and 25th to 15th place, respectively. The report cites reductions in obesity, smoking and physical inactivity for the golden state’s uptick.

Notably, all but one of the lowest-ranked states were in the south: Mississippi, Kentucky, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Arkansas and West Virginia.

“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,” Rhonda Randall, senior adviser to United Health Foundation and chief medical officer and executive vice president of UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions, said in a statement. “Rising rates of obesity and food insecurity, especially when paired with the potential shortfalls in health care savings of many current and future seniors, underscores the need for action to help seniors live healthier lives.”

Filed Under: Hospital Administration Practice Management
Top image credit: Flickr; Sharat Ganapati