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Why Employers and Payers Should Offer Companionship Services, Per Papa’s CEO

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About one in five Medicare Advantage members have no one to turn to for help, and one in three are socially disconnected, according to a recent report from Papa, a companion care company. These findings show why employers and payers should care about offering companionship services, as seniors struggle with loneliness and caregivers deal with burnout, said Andrew Parker, founder and CEO of Papa.

“That means [seniors] don’t know who to talk to, they don’t know who to turn to, they’re completely by themselves, isolated and have no way — from their perspective — to solve their problem,” Parker said during a Thursday interview at the Behavioral Health Tech 2023 conference held in Phoenix. Miami-based Papa works with payers and employers to provide social support for seniors and families. The company sends “Pals” to seniors’ homes for social interaction, transportation support, grocery support and other services.

The Papa report relied on data from nearly 29,000 Medicare Advantage members. It found that 41% of MA members are lonely, and 22% are severely lonely. Those with disabilities have the highest prevalence of loneliness, while Dual Special Needs Plans members have the second-highest prevalence.

Many seniors struggle with transportation as well. MA members who feel lonely are 73% more likely to have a transportation barrier compared to those who aren’t lonely, the report found. The most common type of transportation struggle is getting to social visits. This is concerning because while many MA plans offer non-emergency medical transportation support, very few provide transportation for social needs, the report noted.

Why should employers and payers be concerned about these findings and consider companion support? On the employer side, providing companion care could reduce the burden on employees who are caregivers, Parker said.

“It’s very stressful to be a family caregiver,” he said. “My mom is a full-time lawyer and was the family caregiver for my grandmother. Once my grandpa sadly passed away, [my mom] out of nowhere had to take her to doctor’s appointments, take her to chemo, get her medicine, make sure she was okay and check in on her. How do you do that while you’re working 40-50 hours a week? It’s pretty much impossible.”

On the payer side, particularly with Medicare Advantage and Medicaid plans, offering companion care can reduce medical complications and the cost of care, according to Parker. Previous studies on Papa found that its services reduced emergency department visits and hospital readmission rates.

“We’re in the home and they trust us,” Parker declared. “You may say, ‘I’m having a behavioral health situation, I’m in a bad mood, I’m not eating.’ You’re not going to tell your health plan that. The Pal can break down some of those barriers, build that relationship, lower costs and drive up good member experience.”

Photo: diego_cervo, Getty Images

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