Consumer / Employer, Payers

Economic instability, loneliness, food insecurity block seniors from accessing care, survey finds

The survey is from Medicare Advantage company Alignment Healthcare. It focused on social determinants of health, which are proven to have more of an effect on overall health than clinical care.

The top three social barriers for seniors accessing healthcare are economic instability, loneliness and food insecurity, according to a survey released Monday.

The study by Medicare Advantage insurer Alignment Healthcare surveyed 2,601 adults aged 65 and older from July 24 to August 13. It focused on social determinants of health, which are proven to have more of an effect on overall health than clinical care, according to the National Academy of Medicine.

“With 10,000 adults turning 65 every day, it’s more urgent than ever to understand the issues seniors face that impede their path to health, wellness and happiness,” said Dr. Dinesh Kumar, chief medical and operating officer of Alignment Healthcare, in a news release. “This study offers insights into those barriers and provides a window into the solutions we should consider to best address those needs. With this valuable information, we can help ensure our elders receive the attention, respect and care they need and deserve while raising expectations of what healthcare can be.”

Findings from the survey include:

  • More than one in five seniors said the inability to pay will be the top barrier to accessing care in the next year. Another one in 10 said they don’t have the resources and support to cover medical bills and nearly one in six carry medical debt. Of those who have medical debt, more than a quarter owe an amount equivalent to three months or more of living expenses.
  • In the survey, 21% of respondents ranked loneliness and isolation as the top factors causing stress and mental health issues. A quarter said Covid-19 had the the greatest negative effect on their mental health in the last year and one in five said they are lonelier now than they were a year ago. Another one in five said they would use non-medical companion care if available. Many also stated easier access to care — such as through telehealth or transportation to appointments — would reduce stress.
  • Accessing nutritious food is a barrier for many seniors, with 15% of respondents saying they anticipate struggling to put healthy food on their table in the next year. Food insecurity is caused by increasing costs at grocery stores, physical difficulties cooking meals and a lack of transportation. One-third of seniors ranked grocery assistance as their most important support priority.
  • More than 20% of seniors said the lack of reliable transportation is a barrier when seeking healthcare. One in seven said they will not have consistent transportation to medical care in the next year.
  • One in 10 respondents said trouble accessing or using technology will be a challenge in seeking healthcare in the next year. Another one in seven said technology training is the benefit they want most.

Several healthcare startups are tackling these issues. In the affordability area, there is Resolve Medical Bills, which helps people fight large bills and uses algorithms that find billing errors. Its negotiators then work to secure fair rates. Another company is PayZen, which offers individualized payment plans for patients.

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To help seniors struggling with loneliness, the company Papa helps health plans and employers connect their members with people for companionship, everyday tasks and transportation. A similar startup is Mon Ami, which pairs seniors with college students.

Several startups are also battling food insecurity, including EatWell, which partners with health providers and delivers meal kits with simple recipes and fresh ingredients. Another is NourishedRx, which works with health plans and providers to deliver meals to at-risk members.

When it comes to attending medical appointments, Uber Health and Lyft Healthcare provide patients with transportation to care as do healthcare-focused companies like Roundtrip and Ride Health.

Lastly, to help seniors understand technology, Candoo Tech provides tech support and training so they feel more comfortable using phones, computers and tablets. Another company is GetSetUp, an online service that helps older people learn new skills, including technology.

Photo: PixelsEffect, Getty Images