Medicare Advantage Plans Target Social Isolation In New Programs

Medicare Advantage plans leverage volunteers and community partnerships to reduce loneliness among seniors.

April 14, 2020 – Cigna and SCAN Health Plan’s Medicare Advantage programs are focused on decreasing senior social isolation during the coronavirus pandemic through new programs and funding, relying on volunteers and community partnerships.

“Our deep research into loneliness has shown us the undeniable correlation between our emotional and physical health,” said Douglas Nemecek, MD, chief medical officer of behavioral health at Cigna. “With so many older Americans living alone and sheltering in place right now, we want to go the extra mile to help support, engage and connect with them during this unprecedented time.”

Loneliness was serious health risk to seniors long before coronavirus struck the US.

Cigna’s 2020 Loneliness Index, released in January 2020, reported that Americans experience loneliness at a chronic level. Over 60 percent of American adults said they feel lonely and half of the Baby Boomer generation reported feelings of loneliness.

Motivators of loneliness included lack of regular, meaningful social interaction and poor quality health.

To support seniors who are being isolated to protect them from the coronavirus, Cigna is starting a pilot program for Medicare Advantage customers.

The pilot serves 24,000 customers in Cigna’s Medicare Advantage program, but the payer said it sees it growing in the future. While seniors are restricted to home, the payer is providing for their social determinants of health needs. The Cigna representative that provides these services is also watching for any potential health risks.

But the payer wants these relationships to be more than medical or transactional.

Seniors have the option to receive a follow up call from the same Cigna representative, for the purpose of expanding on that relationship to meet seniors’ social needs, as well as their physical and clinical ones.

The program specifically targets Medicare Advantage members who are at high risk for health complications. These members receive individualized calls that allow them to ask any questions they may have about coronavirus. The payer will also focus on providing ready medical support for these individuals.

Cigna employees and their families are also getting involved in serving seniors’ social needs.

Through a partnership with Bring Smiles to Seniors, Cigna distributed 2,500 cards, handmade by Cigna employees and families, to senior communities.

The partnership with Bring Smiles to Seniors also involves a grant from Cigna Foundation to help support socially isolated seniors.

The announcement comes after Cigna eliminated all coronavirus treatment out-of-pocket costs.

SCAN Health Plan, one of the largest nonprofit Medicare Advantage plans in the nation, is also recognizing the threat that loneliness poses to its members during the coronavirus outbreak and taking action.

Like Cigna, SCAN Health Plan is also leveraging its employee population to reach members.

The health plan’s employees are calling on seniors, starting with the most at-risk and isolated. During their birthday and welcome calls, SCAN’s Senior Advocates—individuals who are both members and SCAN Health Plan employees—listen for potential social determinants of health needs.

SCAN Health Plan is also donating an additional $330,000 to nonprofits serving seniors. It is also continuing its SCAN Friendly Visitor volunteer program, but shifting this from an in-person visit to a volunteer phone call.

“Seniors in our communities are among those at greatest risk of suffering severe impacts of the coronavirus, so it’s imperative that families, friends and neighbors do their utmost to provide support to those in need,” said Chris Wing, chief executive officer of SCAN Health Plan. “With social isolation and food insecurity proven to negatively affect health outcomes, we must band together to ensure those 65 and older have everything they need at this difficult time.”

study conducted by Humana last year found that loneliness is also tied to poorer health. Lonely and isolated Medicare Advantage members who had been discharged from the hospital were four times more likely to be readmitted within a year. Over six in ten were likely to develop dementia.

Aside from volunteer programs, payers are also using telehealth to overcome these dire statistics, with some temporarily eliminating cost-sharing for members who have been affected by coronavirus to ensure access to mental healthcare resources.

Health plans realize that it will take a concerted effort by their representatives as well as volunteers and community organizations to ensure that seniors are well-supported and to limit the effects of loneliness on members’ health.

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