Hospitals

Entrepreneurial opportunities in serving underserved populations in healthcare

The second open enrollment for the Affordable care Act commenced on November 15, yet a survey completed just last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nine out of ten uninsured respondents were unaware when open enrollment actually began.[1] While millions of Americans signed up last year for health care coverage through Medicaid or Qualified […]

The second open enrollment for the Affordable care Act commenced on November 15, yet a survey completed just last month by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that nine out of ten uninsured respondents were unaware when open enrollment actually began.[1] While millions of Americans signed up last year for health care coverage through Medicaid or Qualified Health plans with financial assistance, millions more did not, emphasizing a need for new and innovative ways of reaching the uninsured.

Vast numbers of the uninsured come from groups traditionally known as the “medically underserved” because they encounter economic, cultural and linguistic barriers to health care. Barriers to enrollment for coverage closely follow the barriers to receiving care. These underserved populations include Hispanics, who comprised less than 11% of Exchange enrollees, yet account for as many as one in four of the uninsured in the United States[2]. Residents of rural areas are also a commonly underserved group, accounting for nearly one in five of the uninsured.  Rural residents are more likely to live below the poverty line and thus more likely to qualify for assistance in the form of public programs or subsidies to help lower the cost of health insurance premiums.  The age group most likely to be uninsured are Millennials, those aged 19-34. For a variety of reasons, Millennials often find themselves uninsured, whether due to an inability to afford coverage, their employer not offering coverage or disinterest in spending money on insurance premiums.

Key stakeholders like the federal and state governments, community organizations, and health insurance companies have earmarked significant budgets for signing up the uninsured.  There are great opportunities for innovative entrepreneurs to develop helpful and easy-to-use tools that reach this underserved population, and address their barriers to signing up for insurance coverage.  The most successful innovations will be simple to use, educating consumers on importance of health insurance, and demonstrate the opportunities to make coverage more affordable with tax credits and public programs for those who are eligible.

Once insured, the underserved community will continue to need support as they navigate the complex health care system and access a tight supply of primary care providers.  To assist this population, entrepreneurs should consider the following opportunities:

  • Build products and solutions that can be used in a variety of circumstances and settings – on a mobile phone or tablet, in the community, or in retail locations.
  • Partner with health care and community-based organizations that are already working with and deeply understand underserved populations to more effectively reach different groups.
  • Remember that health literacy is a challenge for many adults, but especially for underserved populations. This includes using simple phrases to describe health concepts and focus on how to make effective health care decisions.
  • Keep cultural and language factors in mind by developing tools in more than one language and consider different cultures’ attitudes towards the health care system.
  • Conduct extensive user testing to ensure a consumer’s experience intuitive and efficient.

Entrepreneurs bring ingenuity and drive to facilitate change and health care access is ripe for transformation. As we enter the second open enrollment of the Affordable Care Act, the opportunities to reach the uninsured are vast. By focusing on key populations that are underserved, entrepreneurs can also make a lasting impact on the lives of millions of Americans.

References

[1] Kaiser Family Foundation

[2] The Commonwealth Fund

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