January 2, 2019
There is growing consensus that America is facing a loneliness epidemic. In fact, a new piece from the Wall Street Journal reports that baby boomers are aging alone more than any generation in U.S. history. Today, about one in 11 Americans age 50 and older lacks a spouse, partner, or living child. That amounts to approximately 8 million people in the United States without close kin—one of the main sources of companionship in old age.
This report builds on findings from earlier this year, when Cigna released results from a national survey exploring the impact of loneliness in the United States. The survey revealed that most American adults consider themselves lonely. More specifically, nearly half of Americans reported sometimes or always feeling alone or left out, while one in four Americans rarely or never reported feeling as though there are people who really understand them.
Research increasingly shows that people who are lonely and isolated are more likely to have health problems, including heart disease, stroke, and immune system problems. Evidence suggests they may even have a harder time recovering from cancer.
A person’s physical, mental, and social health are entirely connected. Today, health insurance providers are working to address the whole health of consumers, incorporating initiatives to reduce loneliness into their offerings.
For example, CareMore recently announced the results from its Togetherness Program, which is dedicated to addressing loneliness among seniors. The program has already enrolled 1,000 CareMore patients and, through consistent telephonic and in-person outreach by social workers and volunteer phone pals, the program has demonstrated a number of positive health outcomes. Participation in exercise programs increased by 56.6 percent for the program’s participants compared to those not involved in the program, and emergency room utilization among enrolled participants decreased by 3.3 percent compared to the program participants’ baseline. Moreover, hospital admissions per thousand members among program participants were 20.8 percent lower than admissions among the intent to treat population.
Or, take Cigna, which has furthered its commitment to address the impact of loneliness on Americans’ health and well-being by launching an abbreviated, 10-question version of the UCLA Loneliness Index on Cigna.com. This short questionnaire, available to the general public at no charge, is based on one of the world’s most widely referenced academic measures used to evaluate loneliness. Based on each participant’s responses, Cigna provides tailored tips and suggested actions to help increase social connections and improve feelings of vitality.
In Massachusetts, the Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) has developed a program—the One Care demonstration program—which serves individuals who are dually eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid. Upon enrollment, CCA learns more about individuals’ medical, social and behavioral health needs—including loneliness. From there, patients are assigned a care partner who becomes their first point of contact for all services and can reach out to other team members when specialty services are required, such as behavioral health or long-term services and supports. For the sickest members, the care partner is typically a nurse practitioner, behavioral health worker, licensed clinical social worker, or licensed mental health clinician, all of whom can meet the client in person, at home, or in the community.
We can’t address symptoms in silos. That’s why health insurance providers are treating the mind and body as one to help people achieve and maintain a healthy lifestyle. As we learn more about how loneliness impacts our health, insurance providers will continue their initiatives to address loneliness.