Social determinants of health became a buzzword at some point in the last five years. They were what every health care provider—and home care provider in particular—wanted to fix in the elderly.
But during the pandemic, some of these factors worsened the condition of the elderly. That’s according to a new study 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 to suggest that the social determinants of health impact health care,” Alignment CMO Dr. Dinesh Kumar told Home Health Care News. “What are the biggest barriers to health care, and what are the things other than great health care that can actually add more value to these seniors? We wanted a more specific study of a more targeted population. And it was more representative of the communities we’re in.”
The survey — called “Social Threats to Aging Well in America” – asked 2,601 US adults 65 and older about their “biggest barriers to health care and the support they need to overcome these challenges.”
Economic stability, transportation, loneliness, food insecurity, mental health, and technology barriers were all identified as barriers.
Specifically, the study found that:
– More than one in five US seniors cite inability to pay as their top barrier to health care in the next year, and that one in six carry medical debt
– 21% rank loneliness and isolation as the main factors causing stress and mental health problems – one in five say they are lonelier than they were last year
– 15% of seniors expect difficulty putting healthy food on their table in the next year, while a third identify grocery maintenance as their top priority
– One in seven say they will not have regular transport to medical care in the next year
– A quarter of older people said that COVID-19 had the biggest negative impact on their mental health in the past year
– 10% of seniors say their lack of access to reliable technology or difficulty with technology will be a barrier to health and medical care in the next year
After all, Alignment is a senior-focused master plan that serves seniors in California, Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina. The company offers a variety of additional benefits through its plan, including ones that address the aforementioned obstacles.
It has also partnered with home companion company Papa.
“Historically, we’ve had a lot of additional benefits that seek 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 expand its benefits as it responds to this study.
“You’ll see new plan benefit products that we have to address some of those,” he continued. “We will use this and subsequent data like this to tailor additional products and benefits over time to meet some of the key needs facing our seniors … in addition to providing great health care . Because if you don’t care about the whole human being, you don’t really care about his problems.
Home care is part of Alignment’s mission to close the care gap for all of their senior members as well.
Through its Care Anywhere program, it provides 24/7 care for the elderly through a nurse and social worker for frail and sick people at home.
“What you’re seeing here is what’s happening across the country,” Kumar said. “And it’s right for us as a country to think about how we care for our elderly and how much time each of us spends with our own family members to make sure we deal with that feeling of loneliness.”