Housing, transportation limit MA seniors’ access to quality health care

A young female doctor in a patterned dress is using a stethoscope to examine an elderly man wearing a blue turban and a striped shirt. They are in a medical examination room with medical equipment and a sign on the wall in the background.

Economic factors often influence access to health care. In Massachusetts, adults age 65 and older with less than a high school education are more than 11 times as likely to have teeth extracted than those with a college degree, according to United Health Foundation’s 2024 Senior Report.

High housing and transportation costs are preventing some Massachusetts seniors from seeing their health care providers, according to a new report.

United Health Foundation found despite an increase in the number of geriatric care providers and access to telemedicine, measures of economic well-being for adults age 65 and older have worsened.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer and executive vice president of UnitedHealthcare Employer and Individual, said it led to a nearly 10% decline in cancer screenings and other types of preventive care.

“We see some challenges in some economic measures like poverty — worsening housing cost burden and more seniors saying that they have food insecurity — that they’re worried about getting access to food,” Randall reported.

Food prices, especially in the Boston area, have risen faster than in most parts of the country. Data show more than 11% of Massachusetts seniors now live below the poverty line.

The high cost of living is not unique to Massachusetts and Randall connected it to a more than 6% increase in depression among seniors nationwide. Frequent mental distress among seniors rose more than 10% between 2021 and 2022 alone, especially for those who struggle with cognition. While the early death rate for older adults is down, it is still higher than the pre-pandemic rate, and Randall pointed out drug deaths remain alarmingly high.

“No subpopulation — whether it’s adults, children, seniors — have been exempt from that increase,” Randall emphasized. “It’s a concerning issue for our nation, all across all populations.”

Despite being surrounded by world-renowned medical facilities, nearly 800,000 people in the Commonwealth provide unpaid care for an older adult. Access to high-speed internet is up nearly 20%, and Randall added more seniors would benefit from regularly connecting online to not only their doctors but family and friends.

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