Maryland needs to do more to ensure access to prescription drugs and pain management for seniors, areas where it ranks last and second-to-last in the country, a new report released Wednesday by United Health Foundation said.
Overall, the state ranked 14th in the nation for senior population health, according to the study, doing well in terms of senior wealth, education, health care screenings and hospitalization rates.
Advocates at the state’s branch of the AARP said that given Maryland’s wealth and level of education it should be doing better.
“I would have definitely thought we were in the top 10,” said Tammy Bresnahan, associate state director for advocacy for the AARP. “That’s not a bad ranking but it seems like we should be in the top 10.”
Pain management and prescription drug prices highlighted the state’s problems.
“We also have a low prevalence of pain management,” said Dr. Arethusa Kirk, chief medical officer for United Healthcare Community Plan for Maryland, which provides Medicaid plans in the state. “Our need for resources for complex pain management is great.”
Around 39 percent of Maryland seniors with arthritis reported that associated pain does not limit their usual activities, according to the CDC. That placed Maryland 49th out of 50 states.
The state’s rate has fallen every year, according to the survey. In 2013, the study’s first year, 61 percent of Maryland seniors with arthritis reported that pain did not limit their activity.
Maryland also scored poorly on access to prescription drugs. Just 76 percent of Medicare-enrolled seniors in Maryland had a creditable drug plan, well below the national average of 87 percent.
Bresnahan said that the drug access number stuck out to her and said it’s part of the reason the AARP advocated for the prescription price-gouging bill that passed the state legislature last month.
“We shouldn’t be hitting 50 in any category,” she said.
Maryland’s positive side included its clinical policies, including diabetes management and health screenings, which decreased the overall number of hospitalizations for the state.
“I think when you look at the clinical care numbers, in general you see high quality care,” Kirk said. “There’s a correlation of putting good policies in place to prevent hospitalizations and outcomes coming down the pike.”
How Maryland cares for seniors will require more discussion in the state’s health care community as the population grows. The state estimates that in 13 years, 25 percent of the state’s population will be age 60 or over.
Kirk said focusing on ways to improve the health climate for seniors could include increasing volunteerism among seniors, which has dropped according to the report.
“It would be short-sighted of us to continue to isolate seniors,” she said. “They should be integrated into the community and that would improve their overall life and functioning.”
But seniors are also staying in the workforce longer and that could be why volunteer rates are dropping, Bresnahan said.
“We know people are staying in the workforce longer and they’re taking care of other members of their families,” she said.
This story has been corrected to reflect that United Healthcare provides Medicaid plans but not Medicare plans in Maryland.