HARTFORD, Conn. — Medical research shows that loneliness and social isolation are associated with negative health behaviors and a wide range of illnesses. In fact, the health impact of loneliness has been equated to smoking 15 cigarettes a day (Holt-Lunstad 2010). Loneliness and isolation are prevalent. A 2019 University of Michigan study found that 34 percent of Americans aged 50 to 80 feel they lack companionship, while 27 percent feel isolated (University of Michigan 2019).
To address this issue, Aetna, a CVS Health company (NYSE: CVS), has developed a Social Isolation Index to estimate each member's risk of social isolation. The Index, which is based on claims data and multi-dimensional information on social determinants of health, will help to identify high-risk Medicare beneficiaries. They will get proactive outreach from specially-trained consultants within our Resources For Living® program.
"Social connection is a critical determinant of health for most people, but particularly for the Medicare population," said Dr. Robert Mirsky, chief medical officer for Aetna Medicare. "We want our Medicare beneficiaries to be able to care for themselves or have reliable support, to be safe in their homes and communities and to lead fulfilling lives. Helping our Medicare beneficiaries in this manner not only improves their quality of life, it can also delay the development and progression of chronic conditions."
The Resources For Living program, which is available to all Aetna Medicare Advantage members and their caregivers, helps address loneliness and other social needs by connecting members with important community resources. Program consultants work directly with members to understand their needs and identify local resources, such as clubs, support groups, home visitor programs, transportation, caregiver support, and many other resources. The program serves as an early point of intervention for the many non-medical issues that impact members' health.
Resources For Living tailors its support to meet each member's needs. For example, Medicare members who are fully independent might be connected with local volunteer opportunities or senior travel groups. Members who require more support might get referrals for grocery and meal delivery services, transportation options and home modification assistance. And members who are more dependent on everyday care might receive information on home health care and nursing home options.
The Social Isolation Index and Resources For Living outreach program are components of Aetna's overall Medicare social connectedness strategy, which is a population health approach to improving the holistic well-being of Aetna's members. Members identified for outreach by Resources For Living specifically fall in a rising risk category, meaning that the emphasis is on promoting wellness and practicing preventive health care. The social connectedness strategy encompasses several other programs, both new and existing, to improve health through human connections.
Encouraging human connections to improve health
While digital solutions may help to facilitate better health, personal connections are critical for consumers ages 65 and older, the Path to Better Health Study reveals.
According to the CVS Health study, 24 percent have no friends or family nearby to support them and 27 percent don't know where to go to meet new people.
In 2020, Aetna will offer a new companionship benefit in partnership with Papa to lessen social isolation and provide needed assistance to seniors in select plans in Florida. Papa employs local college students who visit with older adults to help with errands or household chores, as well as provide technology lessons. Eligible members may schedule up to 10 hours per month.
"Adults with two of more chronic conditions and physical limitations are more likely to feel socially isolated than those who do not have these issues," Mirsky said. "We feel as though developing programs to address this issue can elevate the quality of life for our Medicare beneficiaries and better support their unique needs."
Aetna will also continue to provide SilverSneakers®, a fitness program offering exercise at over 15,000 locations across the country, through most of its Individual Medicare Advantage plans in 2020. Besides traditional gym settings, SilverSneakers also hosts "Beyond the Gym," classes at venues such as community centers, churches, and parks. They also offer online classes. Participation in SilverSneakers has been shown to improve health outcomes by reducing loneliness and isolation by 20 to 25 percent (Brady 2018).
Aetna's efforts to address social isolation and loneliness for Medicare beneficiaries is part of Destination: Health, a series of CVS Health business programs focused on helping people improve their health outside of a clinical setting.
Visit AetnaMedicare.com to learn more about Aetna's 2020 Medicare plans. Or call us at 1-855-335-1407 (TTY: 711) seven days a week, 8 AM to 8 PM. The Medicare Annual Enrollment Period runs from October 15 through December 7, 2019. A licensed agent may answer your call.
About the study
The Path to Better Health Study by CVS Health, first released in 2018 and called the Health Ambitions Study, was conducted in April and May 2019 and included two surveys fielded by Market Measurement, a national market research consulting firm. The consumer survey comprised 1,000 participants 18 and older, located throughout the U.S. It also oversampled six metropolitan statistical areas Atlanta, Austin, New York, Philadelphia, Seattle and South Florida, and among two ethnic groups: African Americans and Hispanics. The survey of 400 providers focused on primary care physicians and specialists with at least two years' experience. In 2019, the study was expanded to include nurse practitioners, physician assistants and pharmacists.
Aetna, a CVS Health company, serves an estimated 38 million people with information and resources to help them make better informed decisions about their health care. Aetna offers a broad range of traditional, voluntary and consumer-directed health insurance products and related services, including medical, pharmacy, dental and behavioral health plans, and medical management capabilities, Medicaid health care management services, workers' compensation administrative services and health information technology products and services. Aetna's customers include employer groups, individuals, college students, part-time and hourly workers, health plans, health care providers, governmental units, government-sponsored plans, labor groups and expatriates. For more information, visit www.aetna.com and explore how Aetna is helping to build a healthier world. @AetnaNews
Aetna Medicare is a HMO, PPO plan with a Medicare contract. Our SNPs also have contracts with State Medicaid programs. Enrollment in our plans depends on contract renewal. See Evidence of Coverage for a complete description of plan benefits, exclusions, limitations and conditions of coverage. Plan features and availability may vary by service area.
SilverSneakers is a registered trademark of Tivity Health, Inc. © 2019 Tivity Health, Inc. All rights reserved.