Medicaid Concept: Loneliness as a Social Determinant of Health

This is part of our Medicaid Concepts series, in which we provide a high level overview of key concepts in the Medicaid industry today.

What do we mean by loneliness as a social determinant of health?

While most of the social determinants of health conversation focuses on various forms of food, clothing and shelter issues, loneliness and isolation have also been shown to play a significant role in health outcomes. Recent studies suggest that loneliness can have as big an impact on health as smoking or obesity. Cigna has conducted extensive surveys with generational breakouts that show millennials and generation z are loneliest of all, and its affecting their health. NIH has also studied loneliness and social isolation in older Americans.

Loneliness acts as a fertilizer for other diseases. The biology of loneliness can accelerate the buildup of plaque in arteries, help cancer cells grow and spread, and promote inflammation in the brain leading to Alzheimer’s disease. Loneliness promotes several different types of wear and tear on the body.” – Steve Cole, UCLA

What role does Medicaid play?

Some states have launched programs to target loneliness specifically (Ohio‘s friendly caller program is one example). Medicare Advantage plans have also launched similar efforts during the COVID pandemic.

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