Expect big medical bills for soon-to-be seniors

Can a chosen locale make a person healthier? While no definitive data yet says yes or no, “Move to New Hampshire and live a long, healthy, happy life!” a comprehensive state-by-state analysis of the health of older Americans suggests there are certain parts of the country where seniors either flourish or fail at a higher rate.

The United Health Foundation released its America’s Health Rankings, a 148-page analysis loaded with fascinating nuggets. The study took available data, ran it through its special sauce-maker, and pumped out a list of the healthiest and unhealthiest states for seniors or those approaching senior status.

It also provided projections of the overall health of this group of mostly baby boomers, and compared their general health characteristics to those of upcoming generations.

The special sauce consists of sorting data by five categories: behaviors, community and environment, public and health policies, clinical care, and health outcomes. As we know, states vary widely in such basic elements of health.

The current list of best and worst states for seniors is a good place to dive in. The usual patterns are easily identified; healthiest tend to be in the north and northeast, with the south contributing overwhelmingly to the bottom 10.

The top 10 best states for senior health include:

  • Massachusetts
  • Vermont
  • New Hampshire
  • Minnesota
  • Hawaii
  • Utah
  • Colorado
  • Utah
  • Connecticut
  • Washington

Drum roll, please, for the bottom 10, starting with No. 50:

  • Louisiana
  • Oklahoma
  • Mississippi
  • Arkansas
  • West Virginia
  • Kentucky
  • Alabama
  • Tennessee
  • Nevada
  • Texas

The report tells us that such conditions as obesity, smoking, low physical activity, and a lack of access to medical services continue to doom southern seniors to golden years filled with aches, pains, and misery. Meantime, the reverse conditions contribute to the tennis-and-golf lifestyles of northerners, perhaps also toughened by all that snow shoveling.

The states our culture tends to identify as magnets for seniors — Florida and Arizona — fell right in the middle of the pack. But their rankings may change, the report suggests, as the current crop of pre-seniors passes through that uncertain gateway.

But what of the future of these seniors as a whole? Collectively, the boomers’ often poor “lifestyle” choices are all adding up to a generation that will experience substantially more serious health issues in their dotage than upcoming generations. Now, the group as defined for the study — ages 50 to 64 today — is actually a combo of Gen Xers and boomers.

The study compared certain factors — diabetes, obesity, smoking, and overall health — in today’s 50 to 64 population versus a similar group in 1999. Naming issues aside, consider the findings:

  • The current group reported 55 percent more diabetes;
  • Obesity was up 25 percent;
  • With smoking down by 50 percent in the current 50 to 64 age range compared to the previous group, smoking-related disorders will decrease;
  • The percent of adults in this range reporting good or excellent health is down 9 percent from the previous group.

Thus, the current crop of seniors will experience the myriad obesity- and diabetes-related chronic conditions as it ages, all costly and difficult to treat.

This, the study says, has grim implications for a nation struggling to contain health care costs. Medicare will bear the brunt of these expenses which, of course, means we’ll all contribute to keeping these aging Americans alive and relatively healthy for the next three to four decades.

Last Posted by Dan Cook at BenifitsPro.com

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