family caregiver, or unpaid caregiver, helps an older adult walk outside in front of a house.

A six-month pilot program between Papa and Michigan-based Medicaid program Meridian resulted in a 33% reduction in healthcare costs for active enrollees. The cost savings highlight the impact programs addressing social determinants of health can have on the lives of vulnerable patients.

“The correlation between unmet social needs and an increased risk of hospitalization is strong,” Meridian Chief Medical Officer Kay Judge, MD, said in a statement. “This particular group of members had five or more ED visits over the year that preceded the Papa program. By connecting these individuals with Papa Pals, we were able to identify and address social and clinical needs and increase the proactive support and care associated with driving better health, while potentially helping to avoid more serious issues down the line.” 

Papa is an on-demand senior assistance firm that provides social support for older adults by pairing them with trained companions, known as Papa Pals. 

The Meridian pilot program ran between May and October of 2021 with more than 160 Medicaid beneficiaries who were frequent users of emergency departments. During that time, the members had more than 700 visits with Papa Pals that resulted in a 25% decrease in ED visits, a 14% decline in hospital readmissions, a 50% increase in cervical cancer screenings and a 46% increase in diabetic eye examinations. 

Papa has become a leader in the senior services businesses since its launch five years ago. The company now has partnerships with more than 70 health plans and recently inked a deal with Uber to help older adults in underserved areas get to medical appointments, community events and other destinations.

Addressing social determinants of health has become a key component of Medicare Advantage plans in an effort to drive down healthcare costs. Nearly a quarter of the plans in 2022 offered supplemental nonmedical benefits including companion services, transportation, and meals, according to ATI Advisory. MA plans are enhancing those benefits for 2023.