It’s Time to Rethink What Makes a Good Place to Retire

There are many factors that compete for your attention when it comes to deciding where you want to retire. You probably consider the climate, recreational amenities, cost of living, safety, and tax rates. Being close to your family and friends may be the most important factor for you.

Even if you’re pretty sure you want to continue living where you are, please keep reading.

There’s one consideration that I believe most people either underestimate or don’t think about at all. That is the quality of healthcare in the area where you choose to enjoy your retirement.

That may not seem too important during the early years of your retirement, when you’re healthy, active, and able to live independently. But it will become more important later on when you start to slow down and you require more medical attention, despite your best efforts to stay in good health.

Then, suddenly, the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 brought healthcare front and center.

Over the past couple of months, I have been reading a lot of news regarding the spread of the virus and the differences in response to the pandemic in various areas of the country (and the world). After spending much of 2019 researching great places to retire for my book The Quest for Retirement Utopia, I started thinking about how various popular retirement destinations (and places I had recommended in the book) were faring with regard to that area’s response to COVID-19.

I noticed something disturbing.

There are several online reports and surveys which compare the quality of healthcare across all 50 states, and sometimes the District of Columbia and other U.S. territories. The results vary considerably from one report to the next, depending on which data were evaluated and how they were weighted. They are all linked at the end of this article.

When I compared the scores across eight different reports, these states consistently showed up near the bottom of the rankings:

  • Mississippi
  • Oklahoma
  • Arkansas
  • Alabama
  • Kentucky
  • West Virginia
  • Georgia
  • Tennessee
  • Nevada
  • Louisiana

Do you notice a pattern? Many of these states are in the southeast and south-central parts of the U.S. Most of these states offer low cost of living, many are in warmer climates, and some are often listed as popular retirement destinations.

In rural areas of some of these states, some counties have no hospitals and, in a few cases, no doctors. In recent years, economic factors have forced some rural hospitals to close, forcing residents to drive long distances to larger metro areas to receive care.

Many of these states were among the later states to respond to the COVID-19 threat with stay-at-home orders, large gathering prohibitions, and business closures.

Other popular retirement states such as Delaware, Arizona, Virginia, and Florida achieved better rankings.

Of course, it’s inaccurate to apply statistical ratings evenly across an entire state. You can find excellent hospitals and doctors in lower-ranked states, just as you can find sub-par hospitals and doctors in higher-ranked states.

U.S. News has an excellent website for finding the best hospitals in each state.

As you choose where you would like to spend your retirement, even if you are planning to retire in place, visit these resources to determine whether the place you have in mind has good medical care available nearby.

If you have a choice in health insurance plans, make sure the better hospitals are in the network of the plan you choose.

It’s important to live in a place where you can enjoy the weather, feel safe, and have access to shopping, restaurants, and the recreational and cultural amenities you desire. But sooner or later, when you suffer an injury or illness or when the next epidemic arrives, it’s important to live in a place where you can get good healthcare.

Resources:

U.S. News Annual Rankings of Best Hospitals by Region and State

U.S. News Healthcare Quality Rankings (Medicare, hospitals, and nursing homes)   

HealthGrades Hospital Quality in America (WebMD) 

Best and Worst States for Healthcare (Wallethub)

Best States for Healthcare (2020, MoneyRates)

Best quality of life for retired and elderly Americans (USA Today)

The Healthiest States for Seniors (2017, MedicareSupplement.com)

Please feel welcome to comment below.

How to find the best place to retire is covered in greater depth in my book The Quest for Retirement Utopia. This book will suggest new possibilities for where and how you might retire. It will help you clarify what factors are most important to you. It will help you evaluate each place realistically and dissuade you from making a poor choice. And it will provide you with the resources you need to make the most informed choice.
The Quest for Retirement Utopia will help you find the retirement spot that’s right for you!

Click here to learn more.

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© 2020 Dave Hughes. All rights reserved.

Photo credits:
US map: Wikimedia Commons
Blood pressure monitor and pill box: Steve Buissinne
Woman receiving blood pressure test: Hamilton Viana Viana

12 Responses

  1. Hello Dave

    medical care in the US is very problematic and expensive.

    when considering retirement, even after age 65, we need to consider (1) family & friends (2) physical and mental health (3) best place to retire (4) extra income (5) maintaining your zest for living.

    And the package best comes together in a village in the south of France, particularly because any legal resident in France has access to free medical and hospital care.

    cheers

    Bernard Kelly

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Bernard,

      I agree – Montpellier, or the surrounding Languedoc region of France, seems like a very attractive place to retire for all the reasons you mentioned.

      Dave

  2. Kenny says:

    There is nothing quite like a pandemic to focus one’s thinking on health. This article is good call to action, or at very least, call to thoughtful consideration. Good job, sir!

  3. patricia frame says:

    So important and I have known too many people who ignored this in retirement. The lovely little town in the mountains but it is 90 min to nearest hospital with any coronary care, the beautiful and inexpensive foreign place with no local hospitals and a long, long trip to any, I could go on. Yes, metro areas are better often even in areas where healthcare is not highly rated. But the ability to think that each of us is one bad fall or one major illness away from needing a lot of care fast is the first step. I spent months in a wheelchair in my 40s and it changed a lot of what I consider important in my living situation.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Patricia,

      Thanks for your comment! The other thing to keep in mind regarding remote locations is that if you need to call an ambulance, there’s the time it takes the ambulance to get to you plus the time it takes for it to take you to the hospital.

      Dave

  4. Marilyn says:

    Great article! We chose to move to southern AZ 16 years ago because we could afford it, and since we were relatively healthy, we never considered the healthcare scene. But now that we’re here, we feel fortunate to have chosen this area in particular. What no one knows for certain is how their situation may CHANGE – both personally and in their surroundings – there are no guarantees. We can only make our best guess for the future. ♥♥♥

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Marilyn,

      I’m glad it worked out well! Arizona has some pretty good doctors and hospitals, at least in the Phoenix and Tucson areas.

      Cheers,
      Dave

  5. Anthony Wynn says:

    Another terrific article and some very key food for thought when retiring – or when relocating as a retiree! Prior to our move to Central Texas in 2018, I investigated the healthcare situation in our targeted area and what options would be available to me (and my husband) as a Federal retiree. So important!

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Anthony,

      Thanks for your comment. I’m glad you had the foresight to consider this. I know Texas has some very good hospitals.

      Dave

  6. Wendell Reid says:

    Access to quality healthcare was always a factor for me in considering a retirement locale and is usually on other retirement sites. Analysis of state rankings for healthcare is probably not the best way to decide. More so than taxes, quality and access vary widely throughout the state. A retiree in Atlanta metro or Birmingham metro would most likely have better access than a retiree in Yuma Arizona. Persons who plan to retire in rural areas need to do careful research.

    • Dave Hughes says:

      Hi Wendell,

      Thanks for your comment. Yes – I think a lot of the equation has to do with living in or close to a metro area vs. living in a small town or rural area. I probably should have made that more clear in the article. If nothing else, you have more choices in or near a metro area.

      Dave

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