A new report shows the Volunteer State is among the bottom of states when it comes to caring for its most vulnerable adults.
America’s Health Rankings 2023 Senior Report from United Healthcare ranks Tennessee 42nd in health outcomes for those age 65 and older. Notable challenges include a high prevalence of frequent mental distress, drug deaths, smoking, lack of physical activity, and increased poverty.
Michele Johnson, executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center, said elected leaders are not focused on creating policies to serve all Tennesseans.
“We need to have elected officials to roll up their sleeves and address the health care infrastructure,” Johnson said. “Expanding Medicaid is vitally important not just for people who are in the coverage gap, which it is important for them, but it’s important for older Tennessee because we have health care deserts.”
Tennessee is among 11 states to not expand Medicaid. Johnson noted some states are six times more likely to lose a hospital when they have not expanded Medicaid, and she believes expanding Medicaid would strengthen the state’s health care infrastructure and economy.
Johnson is also concerned about the unwinding of the public health emergency, which is in the process of re-determining health care for older Tennesseans. She contended state leaders should make it simple and ensure it protects seniors.
“This should be a fair process that is simple and lacking in bureaucracy as possible,” Johnson said. “And unfortunately that right now we’re really concerned like hundreds of thousands of people, including seniors, will go without health care, not because they’re not eligible but because the process is just so daunting.”
The report found about 10% of Tennessee adults age 65 and older are living in poverty.
Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer of Employer and Individual for United Healthcare, said the comprehensive report found poverty increased overall by 10% between 2019 and 2021.
“We know that’s really important because it has impacts on how much of their dollars are they spending on housing, food, medical care and more,” Randall said. “We want to make sure that not only are we seeing that number decrease, where seniors are living in poverty that the communities are aware of it.”
Randall noted because of the pandemic, they saw more seniors receive access to home-delivered meals and seniors who were eligible for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program signed up. She added as we age, nutrition is very important and a decrease in food insecurity by six percent was an improvement, as fewer worried about accessing nutritious food.