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Florida's health rankings for seniors are mixed

Floridians may be living longer but not necessarily better, according to a new state-by-state report on seniors out Thursday from America's Health Rankings.

Although the Sunshine State ranked 30th overall, the first-time report noted some worrisome trends.

For instance, Florida came in last for its high percentage of seniors with more than one chronic health condition, and next to last in chronic drinking.

The inaugural report was commissioned by the United Health Foundation and builds on the annual America's Health Rankings report, which has been coming out for 23 years.

"The America's Health Rankings Senior Report is a comprehensive portrait of senior health designed to inspire new, effective solutions that meet the health care needs of this rapidly expanding demographic," said Dr. Reed Tuckson, senior adviser to the United Health Foundation.

In Florida, nearly 44 percent of seniors have more than one chronic health problem, compared with only 21 percent in Alaska, which ranked first in this category.

Florida also ranked poorly, at 49th, for its high number of chronic alcohol drinkers older than 65, another habit that bodes ill for long-term health. Researchers defined heavy drinking as having 60 or more drinks in the past 30 days for men, and 30 drinks in as many days for women.

On the plus side, Floridians came in first for diabetes management and also earned good scores for keeping up with their health screenings. Florida also had a relatively low rate of seniors who smoke (ninth place); and had ample hospice care.

Billed as "A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities," the report looked at 34 measures of senior health, drawing on government data from the Department of Health and Human Services and 11 other agencies.

The report was prompted by the huge change in demographics the United States will face in the next 15 years, said Dr. Rhonda Randall, senior adviser to the United Health Foundation and chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare Medicare and Retirement.

"We wanted to give states some measurable metrics so they can be informed of actions they can take in the short and long term," she said.

This is especially critical for Florida, where the 65-plus population is projected to increase by 88 percent during the next 15 years — the third-fastest increase of any state.

Nationwide, that demographic is expected to grow 53 percent during that time.

Dr. David Smuckler, geriatrician and medical director of Orlando Health Center for Aging, said he and other clinicians will "look at the findings that make us pause and evaluate whether we are addressing those issues in our practice."

The report could also help program administrators know where to spend their resources, said Dr. Ariel Cole, geriatrician and practice director for the Centre for Aging and Wellness at Florida Hospital.

"Maybe we shouldn't spend as much on smoking-cessation programs and spend more on alcohol prevention and reduction," Cole said.

Helping providers reallocate resources is an important part of the report, as is raising awareness of the expanding needs for this growing population, Randall said.

Nationwide, Minnesota took the top spot for healthiest state for seniors, followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Iowa.

Conversely, the least healthy states for seniors were Mississippi, which ranked last, followed by Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia and Arkansas.

Mississippi's challenges include a high percentage of seniors who live in poverty and are at risk of hunger, and a low percentage who report good health.

The health of the nation's seniors affects everyone, said Randall, because taxpayers pay for their care through Medicare.

Annual spending on Medicare is expected to increase by 90 percent in the next decade, from $557 billion this year to more than $1 trillion in 2023, according to estimates this month from the Congressional Budget Office.

Florida's health rankings for seniors are mixed 05/29/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 29, 2013 8:03pm]
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