Preventable hospital admissions down among seniors, other challenges persist

Improvements in the rate of preventable hospitalizations for seniors are encouraging, according to United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings® Senior Report: A Call to Action for Individuals and Their Communities. United Health Foundation is motivated to study senior health due to the aging baby boomer population. An estimated 77 million people will enter the 65-and-older demographic in the next 20 years. According to the report, setbacks to senior health need to be addressed before the senior population doubles by 2050.

National prevention strategy

Dr. Jewel Mullen, the president of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO), has pushed for a national effort to promote the health of seniors by issuing a President’s Challenge called Healthy Aging: Living Longer Better. She points to the National Prevention Strategy (NPS) as a model to guide participation in the collaborative efforts. The NPS includes a focus on efforts such as injury and violence free living, tobacco free living, active living, healthy eating, and mental and emotional well-being.

The good news

According to the report, Vermont is the healthiest state for older adults, reporting a decrease in chronic drinking, an increase in hospice care, and better mental health with strong community support. Across the country, more seniors are receiving flu vaccines, and the availability of home health workers is improving. Hip fractures among Medicare beneficiaries have decreased 15 percent since 2013, and preventable hospitalizations among Medicare beneficiaries are down 9 percent.

The bad news

According to the report, physical inactivity is an increasing concern. Approximately 33.1 percent of seniors were inactive this year, an increase from 28.7 percent last year. Depression is becoming more prevalent, while community support (funding allocated to helping older adults remain at home) is decreasing. More seniors are also reporting difficulties with pain management. Food insecurity, indicating anxiety over the amount of food available, is on the rise.

Hospital readmissions

Section 3025 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) (P.L. 111-148) established the Hospital Readmissions Reduction Program, requiring CMS to dock payments made to hospitals with excess readmissions. According to the United Health Foundation report, some readmissions occur due to confusion over medications, miscommunication, or poor follow-up care. Readmissions considered preventable with proper care cost $17 billion annually. The report did not indicate either improvement or increase in hospital readmissions.