U.S. Senator Tina Smith’s Measures to Improve Mental and Physical Health for Seniors Pass Senate

WASHINGTON, D.C. [03/04/20]Yesterday, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.) moved forward measures to address the negative mental and physical health effects—and the economic consequences—of social isolation among seniors, as well as efforts to strengthen grants for Tribal organizations to provide home and community-based services, as part of a Senate-passed bill to amend the Older Americans Act.

The legislation passed by the Senate on Tuesday contains provisions from Sen. Smith’s Older Americans Social Isolation and Loneliness Prevention Act, and from Sen. Smith’s bipartisan Strengthening Services for Native Elders Act with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

“Seniors need to be connected to communities in order to thrive. So I’m pushing to make it possible for states to pursue projects that address social isolation and loneliness among seniors, and for Tribal elders in Minnesota and across the country to be able to age with dignity in their own homes while still maintaining access to quality health care,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “The federal government must do more to improve access to health care, and to support prevention and other supportive services for seniors in Minnesota and across the country. Passing this bill in the Senate is a step toward that goal and I’ll keep fighting to move the legislation forward because this is the right thing to do.”

More than 8 million older Americans experience social isolation, and nearly half of older adults feel isolated, alone, or left out. Socially isolated seniors face a 29 percent increased risk of mortality. And when it comes to federal Medicare spending, it’s $134 more per person per month for every socially isolated older adult. This is compared to Medicare spending on chronic conditions. Sen. Smith’s Older Americans Social Isolation and Loneliness Prevention Act calls for revising the Older Americans Act (OAA) so that there are supports and services in place to allow states to better coordinate to address social isolation and loneliness among older Americans. TheOlder Americans Social Isolation and Loneliness Prevention Act would support screening for the prevention of social isolation and loneliness and coordination of supportive services and health care to address social isolation and loneliness; increase the focus of the Assistant Secretary for Aging on social isolation and loneliness through long-term planning and convening an interagency working group with aging network stakeholders on this topic; and allow states to pursue grant funding for projects that address social isolation and loneliness among older individuals.

Right now there are more than 26 million American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) adults over age 65 living in the United States and too many are facing significant health disparities. These elders are more likely to confront mortality at a younger age, and have higher mortality rates due to alcoholism, diabetes and suicide than the general population. These elders are also more likely to live in poverty and lack access to health care. The Strengthening Services for Native Elders Act would help Tribal organizations provide a wider range of home and community-based health services to AIAN elders, including transportation, case management, and health and wellness programs.