The U.S. has the “highest suicide rate of any wealthy nation” with suicides accounting for 14 deaths … [+]
The high U.S. suicide rate could embolden health insurer efforts to curb loneliness and address other social determinants that can lead to poor health outcomes and illnesses.
A new report Thursday from the Commonwealth Fund showed the U.S. having the “highest suicide rate of any wealthy nation.” U.S. suicides account for 14 deaths for every 100,000 people, or double the rate of the United Kingdom as one example, according to the Commonwealth Fund report, which compared the U.S. to 10 other “high-income nations” in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
The rising suicide rate comes as the U.S. spends a much higher amount on healthcare services per capita than these other wealthy countries. And it’s another sign that the U.S. “can do better, and … should start by assuring everyone can get the care they need, when they need it,” Commonwealth Fund president Dr. David Blumenthal said.
The authors of the report, “U.S. Health Care from a Global Perspective, 2019: Higher Spending, Worse Outcomes,” suggest ways to reduce suicide should include pursuit of value-based payment models and other financial incentives to make sure care is received in the right place, at the right tine and in the right amount.
Health insurers say they are doing their part by addressing social determinants of health, which can range from food insecurity to homelessness as well as loneliness and isolation. Big health insurers including Anthem, the Aetna unit of CVS Health, Cigna, Humana and UnitedHealth Group are increasingly paying mental health and social services they haven’t traditionally covered.
Just last week, Cigna issued an analysis showing 61% of adults report they are lonely, documenting what the authors called a “clear connection” between work and loneliness.
“America is facing a mental health crisis unlike we’ve seen before and we see the impact every day in our communities, families and workplaces,” Cigna’s chief medical officer for behavioral health, Dr. Doug Nemecek said. “From our research, we found that 61% of American adults say they are lonely, and we know that loneliness often co-exists with stress, depression, anxiety and addiction. The more we can understand and help solve for loneliness, the more we can improve overall health and mental wellbeing. To that end, we are prioritizing and accelerating our efforts to make it easier, quicker and more convenient for our customers to access innovative and clinically-proven mental health services.”
Cigna’s strategy is to move beyond simply treating for medical conditions but working on addressing the healthcare needs of the “whole person.” Other health insurers, too, are rolling out programs to address loneliness in their social determinant strategies. CVS Health’s Aetna unit, for example, launched a program this year for senior in Medicare Advantage plans with Miami-based Papa Inc., which links seniors with college-aged caregivers.
“The loneliness epidemic has a profound effect on one’s health,” Papa Inc. founder and chief executive Andrew Parker said. “Loneliness increases the likelihood of premature death by over 29% in addition to the many other negative issues associated with it. By connecting lonely members to (companions) we are able to improve social interactions and provide members with trusted ‘Family On-Demand’ to improve their days and mindset.”
The authors of the Commonwealth Fund analysis on suicide called the health insurer efforts “important” steps.
“U.S. health insurers are starting to address social isolation and loneliness because they realize it has an impact on people’s health,” Roosa Tikkanen, lead author of the study and Commonwealth Fund researcher. “This is an important step for patients, especially the sickest and most vulnerable patients. What is critical is that initiatives by US health insurers to address social isolation must be paired alongside other social policy improvements to improve health outcomes.”