Seniors are Benefiting from Improved Clinical Care, but Face Economic Barriers to Better Health

May 10, 2017
  • Fifth annual America's Health Rankings Senior Report® shows sustained reductions in preventable hospitalizations and hospital deaths
  • New survey data find most current and future seniors are not prepared to meet rising health care costs in retirement, unsure of their future health care savings needs
  • Minnesota replaces Massachusetts as healthiest state for seniors; Mississippi has greatest opportunity for improvement in seniors' health

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.

Seniors seeing improvements in key clinical care measures

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

  • a 25 percent reduction in preventable hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries age 65+;
  • a 30 percent decrease in hospital deaths among Medicare decedents age 65+;
  • a 7 percent decrease in hospital readmissions among Medicare beneficiaries age 65+; and
  • a 9 percent reduction in visits to the ICU in the last six months of life among Medicare decedents age 65+.

New survey data highlight notable health savings shortfalls among current and future seniors

  • 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. 

A high percentage of current and future seniors are unsure about how much they need to save to cover anticipated – and unexpected – health care costs in retirement

  • Fifty percent of retired seniors and 36 percent 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.

Minnesota ranks 1st; Mississippi ranks 50th 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."

About America's Health Rankings Senior Report and Issue Brief

America's Health Rankings Senior Report, in its fifth annual edition,offers a comprehensive analysis of senior population health on a national and state-by-state basis across 34 measures of senior health. In commissioning the report, United Health Foundation seeks to promote discussion around the health of older Americans while driving communities, governments, stakeholders and individuals to take action to improve senior health.

Researchers draw data from more than a dozen government agencies and leading research organizations to create a focused, uniquely rich dataset for measuring senior health at the state level, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Commerce, the U.S. Department of Labor, The Dartmouth Atlas Project, the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger and the Commonwealth Fund. For more information, visit

"Preparing for Health Care Costs in Retirement: An America's Health Rankings® Issue Brief," released by United Health Foundation in collaboration with the Alliance for Aging Research, examines the degree to which current and future retirees are prepared to meet rising health care costs in retirement. The issue brief is based on a national survey of 1,997 retired seniors (age 65+) and non-retired adults (age 50-64), as well as a review of studies on recommended health care savings targets in retirement.

About Alliance for Aging Research

The Alliance for Aging Research is the leading nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating the pace of scientific discoveries and their application to vastly improve the universal human experience of aging and health. The Alliance was founded in 1986 in Washington, D.C., and has since become a valued advocacy organization and a respected influential voice with policymakers. For more information, please visit

About United Health Foundation

Through collaboration with community partners, grants and outreach efforts, United Health Foundation works to improve our health system, build a diverse and dynamic health workforce and enhance the well-being of local communities. United Health Foundation was established by UnitedHealth Group (NYSE: UNH) in 1999 as a not-for-profit, private foundation dedicated to improving health and health care. To date, United Health Foundation has committed nearly $358 million to programs and communities around the world. We invite you to learn more at or follow