Regular exercise can be vital for senior citizen’s mental and physical health. Working out can help ward off a wide range of negative health consequences from arthritis to mental health issues.
But the country’s largest healthcare provider United Healthcare is cutting their SilverSneakers benefit, a program that gives seniors access to 15,000 gyms nationwide, for seniors with Medicare Advantage or Medigap plans in 15 different states. The controversial business decision will affect 2.5 million customers, and United Healthcare made the decision citing only 10% of beneficiaries ever using the benefit.
But, the decision leaves many gym-going seniors in an uncertain fitness future. Medicare Advantage plans in California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, North Carolina and Utah will be affected and Medigap plans in Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Indiana, North Carolina, Ohio, Utah and Wisconsin.
Some United Healthcare customers will be looking to switch to other healthcare plans that still offer the SilverSneakers benefit. Humana made a similar move several years ago, but they reversed their plan and reinstalled their SilverSneakers benefit after facing the backlash.
AARP is also under fire as the senior citizen advocacy group endorses United Healthcare’s plans, and they receive royalties for people who sign up for their service.
The news comes in the wake of recently published academic research which found that the SilverSneakers decreases social isolation and loneliness and increases physical and mental health. Social isolation and mental health issues are a growing worry for the American elderly population and SilverSneakers can serve as part of a larger solution.
But, seniors in these 15 states will have to reconsider their options if they want to receive access to a gym. Further, United Healthcare’s business decision is yet another example of cold and calculated business decisions taking precedence over patient health.