A graying nation lives longer but at significant healthcare costs

A new report that analyzes seniors' health status state-by-state reveals a looming healthcare crisis--the elderly are living longer but with growing rates of obesity, diabetes and other chronic disease.

The America's Health Rankings Senior Report was released Tuesday by United Health Foundation and focused on 34 senior health measures, including smoking, obesity, chronic drinking, hospital readmissions and diabetes management. The data was collected from more than a dozen government agencies and private research groups.

The research reveals that nationwide, about 80 percent of seniors are living with at least one chronic condition, while 50 percent of seniors have two or more chronic conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The report notes states with the lowest percentage of seniors with multiple chronic conditions are Alaska (20.9 percent), Wyoming (21.5 percent) and Montana (23.1 percent), while states with the highest percentages are Florida (43.5 percent) and New Jersey (43.2 percent).

"Chronic illness is unnecessarily high among seniors," said Rhonda Randall, senior advisor to United Health Foundation and chief medical officer, UnitedHealthcare Medicare & Retirement, in a statement. "The coordination of care for seniors, particularly the 50 percent of the population with multiple chronic illnesses, is complex and increases pressure on our country's caregivers and our healthcare system."

Researchers warn diabetes, heart disease, cancer and Alzheimer's disease will lead to diminished quality of life and severe economic consequences if left unaddressed. Medicare beneficiaries with chronic illness account for a majority of Medicare spending. With a rapidly growing and sicker Medicare population, annual spending on Medicare is expected to increase by 90 percent in the next decade, from $557 billion in 2013 to more than $1 trillion in 2023, according to May 2013 estimates from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).

Overall, Minnesota leads the list in senior health, followed by Vermont (2), New Hampshire (3), Massachusetts (4) and Iowa (5). The five worst states for senior health are Mississippi (50), Oklahoma (49), Louisiana (48), West Virginia (47) and Arkansas (46).

The findings underscore the concerns raised by a recent panel over the dwindling numbers of health professionals entering the field of geriatrics, reports YNN. Columbia University Health Policy Professor John Rowe, M.D., said one problem is that geriatricians are paid less compared to other specialists. "We need to work hard during healthcare education to emphasize the value, the rewards associated with helping older people, the complexities, the intellectual challenges and the importance of dignity," said Rowe.

Meanwhile, a new study by University of Michigan researchers says the healthcare industry might get far more bang for its buck spending more on younger rather than older populations. The study, published in the Michigan Journal of Public Affairs, challenges the notion that spending more money on people in their later years to prolong overall life expectancy is a good value.

To learn more:
- read the statement (.pdf)
- check out the YNN article
- see the CBO report (.pdf)