Being socially isolated is not just unhealthy and dangerous for older Americans — it is also expensive, according to a new study by AARP and Stanford University.
Researchers estimate that 14 percent of older adults enrolled in original Medicare — or 4 million people — have meager social networks. The federal health care program spends an average of $1,608 more a year for each older person who has limited social connections than for those who are more socially active, the study found. That translates into an estimated $6.7 billion in added Medicare spending each year.
“Our findings should matter to anyone who cares about the well-being of Medicare beneficiaries and the cost of isolation to the program,“ said Lynda Flowers, senior strategic policy adviser at AARP’s Public Policy Institute and one of the study’s authors.
Previous research determined that people who have few meaningful social interactions have higher rates of illness and tend to die younger. But the link between social isolation and Medicare spending had never been explored. Researchers from AARP’s Public Policy Institute and Stanford University’s Center on the Demography and Economics of Health and Aging were the first to examine that relationship.
The study findings could help give government , health care organizations and academic researchers an incentive to look for ways to reduce social isolation among older adults.
“This could help improve Medicare beneficiaries’ health and quality of life, while potentially saving the program money,” the report says.
The study looked at Medicare spending from 2006 to 2012 for 5,270 adults over 65. The authors asked study participants about how many close relationships they had with family members and friends, the nature of those relationships, and how often they had contact with others, such as in-person meetings and phone calls.