Startups, Patient Engagement, Payers

Stride Health is making health coverage easier for the gig economy

The San Francisco-based startup has a new integration with CMS that allows users to choose benefits and apply for and receive subsidies directly in the company’s platform.

health insurance, Obamacare

As the Affordable Care Act open enrollment period for 2019 draws to a close, a number of factors have conspired to create what projects to be one of the lowest levels of sign-ups since the law’s passage.

What’s also true through is that overall premiums are largely holding steady, and insurer participation in the healthcare exchanges has grown giving people more choice in their coverage.

Still, healthcare costs and concerns are still largely local and changes in individual markets’ premiums or policies can be difficult to track and navigate.

Enter San Francisco-based Stride Health, which was founded in 2013 to help consumers find what health plan they should choose.

The company’s platform takes into account factors including demographic information, existing conditions, preferences, income and subsidies members can use to defray costs, to give people more personalized options for their health coverage.

Stride has found a major market among gig and contract employees – one of the fastest growing segments of the country’s workforce – who often don’t have the traditional benefits associated with full time employment.

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To that end, the company has partnered with a number of other businesses ranging from Uber to caregiver marketplace CareLinx to real estate firms who employ independent contractors as brokers, to offer Stride as a navigation tool for health coverage.

Stride CEO Noah Lang highlighted company research that found around 37 percent of gig workers were uninsured, with many citing the prospects of high healthcare costs. Among Stride’s users though, he said that a third of enrollees spend less than $25 a month on a major medical plan.

Somewhat ironically some of the actions taken by the Trump Administration to undercut the ACA, including the slashing the program’s marketing and outreach budget has served to benefit Stride’s business.

“We’re seeing a lot of demand for help, for education, for guidance and assistance for these large gig economy workforces, and we’re seeing it from the traditional sector as well, because they’re deeply concerned about awareness,” Lang said in a phone interview.

Stride makes money mostly through broker fees earned when directing users to a specific health plan. It also earns a small portion of revenue through charging partner companies for additional services.

A new public-private partnership with CMS called enhanced direct enrollment is serving to make enrollment into the federal health exchanges even easier for Stride users. Through Stride’s integration users can choose benefits and apply for and receive subsidies directly from the company’s platform.

“It allows us to do the hard work and heavy lifting to help freelancers, gig economy workers and self-employed Americans get covered and they never have to leave our experience,” Lang said. “For me I’m very optimistic looking ahead at the opening up of an ecosystem to help people get enrolled.”

By developing the data security and tech infrastructure needed for the integration, Lang pointed to Stride’s ability to reduce friction and ease the consumer experience for the company’s future enrollees.

Potential adjustments to the ACA pitched by CMS and the emergence of new plan types have served to increase the complexity of the choices consumers have to face when making choices about their healthcare.

For example, the introduction of short-term health plans meant to fill in gaps in coverage, which generally offer lower premiums but tend to cover fewer medical services than traditional insurance.

Lang said that while the company shows consumers the range of healthcare coverage options available to them, the company prioritizes making the trade-offs to choosing a health plan with less coverage clear to consumers.

“Today for the most part the right decision for consumers is to get a fully fledged qualified health plan and I think there’s a lot of miseducation in the marketplace or just misunderstanding that you can’t afford it,” Lang said. “When you see a marketplace that’s expanding, I think it begs for guidance as well.”

The longterm roadmap of Stride is to build a parallel, or at least a reasonable approximation, of the benefits package provided to full time employees for gig and independent workers.

With that in mind, the company has expanded its coverage offerings to dental and vision coverage as well as tax preparation, and plans to roll out increasing services in the future.

“When you have a full-time job, it’s plug and play financial security with your paycheck, through your taxes, your health insurance, your basic disability coverage and your health and retirement savings,” Lang said.

“There are a lot of benefits and special services you get from a full time job that are hard to access and hard to figure out when you’re out there on your own.”

Photo: BrianAJackson, Getty Images