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Forget Florida, MN Tops for Retiree Health

June 06, 2013 By Annalise McGrail, Undergraduate Research Fellow

Much of the nation is frightfully unprepared for the dramatic demographic shift happening as a result of the aging baby boomer population, according to a United Health Foundation study. In this much needed wake up call to the national healthcare system, researchers indicate that between 2015 and 2030 the American population 65 and older will increase by 53%, and will comprise 1/5 of the entire American population.

Americans are living longer than ever before, but are facing increased health problems in the form of high rates of diabetes, obesity, and other chronic diseases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) indicates that healthcare costs are 3 to 5 times more for adults 65 and over than for adults under 65. With healthcare spending already accounting for 17.9% of GDP, these changing demographics will present a financial challenge for many states and will result in lower levels of care for many seniors.

Minnesotans in contrast are comparatively well prepared. It looks like enduring all those bitter cold winters have paid off after all; Minnesota ranked #1 as the healthiest state for adults 65 and older. It was in the top five for home health care worker rates, low percentage of food insecurity, prescription drug coverage, percentage of seniors who report very good or excellent health, and mental health, just to name a few. This is very good news for the 1.5 million baby boomers in Minnesota

Minnesota’s work is far from over, however. The study also gave light to some issues that need to be addressed in senior care. The study indicates that Minnesota faces challenges with 200,000 inactive adults of ages 65 and older, comparatively lower percentage of dedicated health care providers, limited community support expenditures, and prevalence of chronic drinking.

Excessive drinking, an area Minnesota ranks below average in, is of particular concern. Adults 65 and older binge drink more often than any other age group. In addition, a study in the American Journal of Psychiatry indicates that a larger percentage of baby boomers drink in excess than the generation before them. For adults 65 and older binge drinking just twice a month doubles the rate of cognitive function decline and increases the rate of memory decline more than fivefold. This is particularly troublesome, as a decline in cognitive function is empirically linked to Alzheimer's. Policy changes will be important in addressing current health care gaps, but alone will be insufficient; individuals must be diligent to ensure their own future health.

As demographics continue to shift, states will be forced to make changes, and will inevitably look to Minnesota’s example when doing so. Therefore, there is a great level of responsibility that comes with our #1 spot. Lucky for us, Minnesota has historically been responsive to studies in the past, even when already ranking highly. In 2011 Minnesota ranked #1 for long-term services and supports, but ranked low on two categories of home care. However, Minnesota promptly established a health care task force to effectively address the problem.

In the case of health care directed towards seniors, the government even began to address problems with status quo care before the study was released. Reform 2020, an initiative supported by many disability advocates will soon make some much needed adjustments to senior care. Reform 2020 will improve home and community based support, engage consumers more directly, and facilitate direct contracting with providers to improve care for seniors as well as individuals with disabilities.

While improving care, Reform 2020 is simultaneously projected to save Minnesota tax payers $151 million over the next five years. In addition, if other states adopted Minnesota’s model, approximately 200,000 people could be kept out of the nursing home system, and instead experience more freedom and independence in the comforts of their own home and community.

In a nutshell, for those of you contemplating retiring along the beach in the Sunshine State or desiring to escape those pesky mosquitoes in the Land of Enchantment, I recommend reconsidering the benefits of living amongst Minnesota- nice folks, having access to more shoreline than California, Florida, and Hawaii combined, and having access to the # 1 senior healthcare system in America that is pro-active and responsive to boot.

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  • Charlie Quimby says:

    June 10, 2013 at 9:38 am

    I know physicians in Minnesota who have patients who “moved” to Florida and fly back here for medical appointments. They do without our income taxes, but apparently not our health care system.

  • Mae B. Haynes says:

    June 11, 2013 at 11:34 am

    I am proud of Minnesota, proud of the state’s forward looking approach, particularly to seniors and health care, and for that reason, I have quietly shifted my retirement thinking away from my native California and back home to Minnesota.

    But something very troubling is happening here, as well as the rest of the country.  Many physicians - eye specialists and dermatologists in particular - are (and perhaps rightfully so) not happy with their compensation from Medicare and the attendant Medigap policies.  They have leaned in the direction of selling their own product—Expensive cataract replacement lenses that Medicare doesn’t pay for and are very, very pricey ... or cosmetic surgery, like Botox, which puts scads of money directly into the pockets of the practitioners.  I have heard that a medical residency in dermatology is impossible to get these days, given the pot of gold that is cosmetic surgery.  And the yearly fee many doctors are extorting from their patients for the right to be seen in a timely manner is proliferating around the country.

    It is not unfair to ask why they became doctors.

    And I believe it is also not unfair to ask, not for the first time, when doctors become businessmen, to whom are the people to turn for doctors?