Letter to Mitch McConnell, Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, and Kevin McCarthy - Senators Van Hollen, Smith and Representative Trone to Address Social Isolation Among Seniors in Next Coronavirus Package
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy,
While public officials and public health experts urge Americans to take the necessary steps to stay at home and maintain physical distance to combat the spread of COVID-19, we have become increasingly concerned about social isolation and loneliness among older adults during this health crisis. As Congress continues to take steps in its commitment to fight the coronavirus pandemic and provide the health resources needed for all individuals, we write to urge House and Senate leadership to consider the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults and include provisions in the next coronavirus stimulus bill to address these concerns.
Social isolation affects more than 8 million older Americans and leaves nearly half of older adults feeling isolated, alone, or left out. Socially isolated seniors tend to live alone and face diminishing social circles. With a lack of social connectedness, isolation can have negative consequences on the health of older adults such as mental and physical health outcomes, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. Further, socially isolated seniors face a 29 percent increased risk of early mortality, which is comparable to mortality rates associated with smoking, obesity, and air pollution.
Beyond the negative mental and physical health effects of loneliness, social isolation also has economic consequences. Federal Medicare spending is $134 more monthly per person for every socially isolated older adult. Lack of social contacts among older adults is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional federal spending annually, which is comparable to Medicare spending on chronic conditions.
As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, older adults remain at heightened risk of developing severe health complications due to contracting the coronavirus. Older Americans have been asked to remain home, avoid social contact with family and friends, and have groceries and vital medications delivered. These social distance measures will help protect the health of vulnerable older adults while easing the burden on our nation's health systems. Unfortunately, experts believe that social distancing will also lead to social isolation and loneliness amongst older adults. Without the ability to physically interact with family, friends, volunteers, and others, older adults could be placed at further risk of the mental and physical health issues associated with social isolation.
As older Americans continue to follow life-saving physical distancing recommendations, it is important that we provide the necessary resources to allow older adults to remain socially connected. We urge that House and Senate leadership consider including the following provisions to help keep older adults healthy, including:
1. $12 million for the National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults, which will enhance efforts to conduct outreach to older adults;
2. $80 million in targeted funding for the Aging Network to purchase and disseminate technology, including laptops, tablets, and assistive devices, to help low-income older adults without technology stay connected;
3. $50 million for Older Americans Act programs to adapt existing evidence-based programs to be offered online or telephonically to reach older adults who are abruptly and unexpectedly homebound as a result of the pandemic; and
4. $6 million for organizations contracted to run the National Minority Aging Resource Centers to address the health effects of social isolation for minority aging populations.
The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a particularly drastic and often fatal toll on older adults. As you shape the next coronavirus relief bill, we hope that you will consider including these provisions to combat social isolation and loneliness amongst older Americans. We appreciate your consideration and collaboration as we continue to work together to improve the quality of health care for all Americans during this public health crisis.