United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings® Senior Report offers us a comprehensive picture of senior health across the nation, highlighting areas where seniors have made strides, while also shedding light on key challenges that remain. As we mark the 50th anniversary of the Medicare and Medicaid programs, this year is an especially important time to reflect on where we are making progress and where we need to direct more resources and attention.
The good news is that the rate of seniors receiving the right care in the setting of their choice is increasing. Preventable hospitalizations are down 8.6 percent from last year and 11.0 percent since the 2013 edition, showing a lower rate of hospitalization among Medicare beneficiaries. More seniors are spending their last days in the setting they prefer compared to last year, with the rate of hospice care increasing and the rate of hospital deaths decreasing. An increase in home health care workers indicates home care is more available to seniors. Finally, a higher percentage of seniors are also receiving the flu vaccine and reporting that their health is very good or excellent. These are positive signs for senior health in our country and successes to build upon in 2016.
However, with the senior population expected to double in size by 2050, it is more important than ever that we work together to promote positive health behaviors among seniors and take steps toward a healthier future. Too many individuals aged 65 and older are still smoking and not effectively managing their weight. These risk factors must be addressed to make progress against diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic conditions that are already too prevalent in the senior community.
We see in this year’s report that seniors are less active, with as many as one third of seniors not getting enough physical activity. Community support spending per capita also declined by 23.9 percent in the last two years. These are both worrisome trends, and communities and individuals need to work together to check this decline.
The 2015 edition of America’s Health Rankings Senior Report is an opportunity not only to assess the health of today’s seniors, but also to assess our own actions to improve it. I hope that the report encourages communities and their leaders to celebrate and build on the accomplishments made this year, while also mobilizing them to continue to approach challenges in senior health head on.
Rhonda L. Randall, D.O., is the chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Retiree Solutions, the nation’s largest business dedicated to the health and well-being of seniors and other Medicare beneficiaries. Dr. Randall is responsible for clinical strategy for the business, and she oversees and ensures effective execution of clinical programs and operations, Medicare payment management, and physician engagement. She also coordinates the business’ clinical initiatives with those of UnitedHealth Group’s other businesses. Dr. Randall is a fellowship-trained geriatrician and is board certified in family practice as well as hospice and palliative medicine. Dr. Randall earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Saint Vincent College in Latrobe, PA, and was recently honored as one of the college’s Alumni of Distinction. She earned her medical degree from the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. She completed her internship, family practice residency and geriatrics fellowship at Florida Hospital in Orlando, where she served as chief intern and chief resident.