Social determinants of health became a buzz term at some point over the last five years. They were what every health care provider – and home-based care provider, in particular – wanted to fix in seniors.
But during the pandemic, some of those factors worsened seniors. That’s according to a new study from administered by Toluna and sponsored by Alignment Healthcare, the latter of which is a Medicare Advantage (MA) plan.
“There’s lots and lots of data that suggests that social determinants of health have an impact on health care,” Alignment CMO Dr. Dinesh Kumar told Home Health Care News. “What are the biggest obstacles to health care and what are the other things other than great health care that might actually add more value to these seniors? We wanted a more specific survey of a more targeted population. And It was more representative of the communities that we are in.”
The study – dubbed “Social Threats to Aging Well in America” – asked 2,601 adults aged 65 and older across the U.S. about their “biggest obstacles to health care and the support they need to overcome those challenges.”
It found that economic stability, transportation, loneliness, food insecurity, mental health and technology barriers were all impediments.
Specifically, the study found that:
– More than one in five U.S. seniors lists the inability to pay as their top barrier to health care in the next year, and that one in six carry medical debit
– 21% rank loneliness and isolation as top factors causing stress and mental health issues – one in five say they’re more lonely than they were last year
– 15% of seniors anticipate struggle putting healthy food on their table in the next year, while one third rank grocery support as their most important priority
– One in seven say they will not have consistent transportation to medical care in the next year
– One quarter of seniors said COVID-19 had the greatest negative impact on their mental health in the past year
– 10% of seniors says their lack of access to reliable technology, or difficulty with technology, will be an obstacle to health and medical care in the next year
On its end, Alignment is a senior-focused MA plan that serves seniors in California, Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina. The company offers a variety of supplemental benefits through their plan, including ones that address the above-mentioned impediments.
It also partners with the in-home companionship company Papa.
“We have historically had lots of supplemental benefits that sought to address some of the known social determinants of health – for example, we have grocery benefits, transportation benefits and companionship benefits,” Kumar said.
When the open enrollment period begins in October, the company may also be expanding their benefits as they react to this survey.
“You’ll see new plan benefit products that we have in place to address some of these,” he continued. “We will use this and follow-up data similar to this to actually tailor additional products and benefits over time to address some of the core needs that our seniors face … in addition to providing them great health care. Because if you don’t take care of the whole human being, you’re not actually taking care of their problems.”
Home-based care is a part of Alignment’s mission to solve care gaps for all of their senior members as well.
Through its “Care Anywhere” program, it provides 24/7 care to seniors via a nurse practitioner and a social worker to frail and sick people at home.
“What you see here is what’s happening across the country,” Kumar said. “And it behooves us as a country to actually think about how we take care of our seniors, and how much time each of us are spending with our own family members to make sure that we address this feeling of loneliness.”