For years, health plans have recognized the value of supplemental benefits like gym memberships and wellness programs to improve member health and reduce costs. However, achieving those goals is contingent upon members actually using them. Free membership to a world-class gym or community fitness location does nothing to reduce hospital readmission if an individual has no intention of setting foot in that gym.
While there is no way to guarantee benefit utilization, short of mandating it, partnering with an organization that has a proven track record and understands the senior population and the ways in which to support it, increases the likelihood of a positive outcome.
SilverSneakers®, for example, serves Medicare Advantage members in all 50 states from more than 70 health plans and provides a useful case study in how a fitness program for adults 65 and older can produce desirable results for everyone involved.
SilverSneakers was founded in 1992 to offer a fitness program designed specifically for older adults in Phoenix and Tucson. Since then, changes in federal senior health programs, the increasing popularity of group fitness and growing awareness of the importance of physical activity and social engagement for healthy aging bolstered opportunities to support senior fitness. In that same time, SilverSneakers added classes to reflect industry trends, member preferences and a range of fitness levels. It also steadily expanded its network of fitness locations to provide members with more options at home and when they travel. The pandemic accelerated the addition of thousands of live and on-demand classes.
When members have the kinds of activities they seek delivered through their preferred channels, they are more likely to participate. And ultimately, participation has the potential to improve outcomes and reduce costs.
In an independent analysis conducted by Avalere Health (an Inovalon company), Medicare Advantage beneficiaries who participated in SilverSneakers had lower healthcare utilization after joining the program compared to matched non-participants. The rate of hospitalizations decreased significantly by 21.3%. Program participants had 7.3 fewer hospitalizations and 7.6 fewer ED visits per year than comparable non-participants. SilverSneakers participants also had shorter inpatient lengths of stay.
Driven mainly by lower spending on inpatient hospitalizations, but also lower use of post-acute care, the total annual average health expenditure among SilverSneakers participants was $4,463, compared to $5,303 for non-participants.
With strong, dynamic programming, innovative engagement tactics and measurable results, senior fitness programs can support health plans in member acquisition and retention. Further, it becomes an expectation of the members themselves, driving loyalty.
According to its 2021 member survey, 65% of participants said SilverSneakers was important in their decision to join their health plan. And 58% of respondents said that if SilverSneakers were no longer available through their health plan, they would likely switch to another plan.
While fitness classes may seem like the beginning and end for a senior fitness program, there is a need to adapt to the growing appreciation for the importance of community and connection to overall wellness. Loneliness and social isolation have been identified as pervasive social determinants of health, including among older adults. Research suggests that those affected are at an increased risk of health issues and even premature death.
Some of this can be addressed through a well-designed fitness program. According to a November 2018 study with the MIT AgeLab, SilverSneakers members were significantly less likely to be socially isolated than non-members.
Tapping into the opportunities beyond fitness will expand and deepen the value proposition of a senior wellness program. That’s why today, SilverSneakers also offers members of participating health plans access to GetSetUp, a virtual learning platform that enables seniors to connect to peers with similar interests, and Stitch, an online and in-person companionship community for older adults.
As the nation’s seniors evolve, so too must the programs designed to improve outcomes and reduce healthcare costs. We must continue to innovate to create experiences that will engage members in activities that they enjoy and that support a healthy lifestyle.
To learn more about SilverSneakers, visit www.tivityhealth.com/brands/silversneakers/.