MedCity Influencers

5 ways health plans are addressing health equity

Medicare and Medicaid plans that invest in effectively addressing these five health equity issues can create a win-win situation that both improves member satisfaction and retention

People often confuse health equity with health equality, but it’s vital that healthcare professionals understand the difference. Health equality essentially means giving every person the same thing, while health equity means giving people what they need to reach the best possible outcome.

This, of course, is an important distinction, as social determinants of health (SDoH) often dictate the needs of health consumers, particularly among Medicare and Medicaid populations. Health equity disparities manifest themselves in a variety of ways based on a person’s individual circumstances, but the good news for both plans and their members is there are many ways a health plan can help.

Here are five things Medicare and Medicaid plans are already doing to address health equity:

Communicating with members using the methods and channels they prefer
Taking a one-size-fits-all approach to outreach is not only outdated, but it’s also proven to be ineffective. Savvy health plans leverage data science and behavioral research to create a more personalized experience that is more likely to resonate and get members to take action on their health. We all have preferences on how we want to be reached — some prefer email, others prefer text messages and still others prefer phone calls, for example — and knowing what each individual member prefers goes a long way toward making members feel like they are being listened to, respected and understood.

Including broadband internet access as a plan benefit to help close the digital divide
A lack of broadband internet access among vulnerable populations is a major factor in contributing to the digital divide. In fact, while there was a noticeable surge in telehealth usage at the height of Covid-19, broadband coverage only increased by about 10%. The challenge is, it’s not only about basic access — the digital divide also includes low digital literacy, an inability to afford the necessary equipment, and limited phone data access. This gives health plans a chance to offer free or reduced-cost broadband as a benefit for its members in order to address these disparities. Further, plans can invest in programs to improve member digital literacy, creating a chance to educate members on how to access the programs, benefits and services available to them. In the end, it’s relatively simple: members who have full high-speed internet access and education on how to use it are more likely to take actions that improve their health.

Providing meal kits to low-income families to address both food scarcity and healthy food access
According to a Harris Poll survey, nearly 44% of Medicaid members either don’t have access to food support programs they need through their plan or are not sure if they do. This creates a golden opportunity for plans to offer free or reduced-cost healthy meal kits to members. Doing so leads to a number of benefits, the most obvious being providing members with healthy meal options they need but may not be able to otherwise find or afford. It also builds trust and satisfaction among members because it demonstrates that the health plan is looking out for their best interest by providing benefits with real-world value and meaning.

Educating members on the importance of basics such as annual wellness visits and flu shots to improve outcomes across the board
The hard truth is that only 16% of Medicare recipients visit a doctor for an annual wellness visit each year, while a full 27% of Americans didn’t visit a doctor at all last year. But the importance of these visits can’t be overstated — those who receive an annual wellness visit receive 62% more preventive screening for chronic diseases than those who don’t, which significantly contributes to keeping members healthy. Part of the onus on plans is to communicate this importance to members — in their preferred channels, as previously mentioned, but also in simple yet informative language that clearly conveys the benefits of such visits as well as the risks associated with skipping them.

Providing valuable rewards and incentives to members that address immediate needs and get them to take action on their health
Offering members rewards and incentives to take healthy actions should be thought of as low-risk upfront investments that keep members healthy and lower the overall cost of care. Case in point — some plans offer members up to $200 for being fully vaccinated for Covid-19, also offering Medicaid and Medicare members in need a free ride to a vaccine appointment. While it may sound like a hefty investment, it beats the alternative by a long shot; the costs of treating unvaccinated patients in hospitals totaled $3.7 billion in August, more than twice June and July combined.

Health equity is a significant issue in the U.S., and it won’t disappear overnight. Disparities in access to care not only create problems for individuals, they also put additional strain on the healthcare system as a whole. Medicare and Medicaid plans that invest in effectively addressing these health equity issues can create a win-win situation that both improves member satisfaction and retention — ultimately helping plan performance — while, most importantly, getting their members the healthcare services they need.

Photo: PeterPencil, Getty Images

Steve Wigginton, CEO of Icario, is responsible for the overall strategy, growth, and operations of the company. Previously the CEO of NovuHealth, Steve became the CEO of Icario in 2020 fol-lowing NovuHealth’s merger with Revel. Steve has a 25-year track record of driving growth, cul-ture, and innovation in healthcare and is passionate about creating a better experience for mem-bers, patients, and providers.
Steve came to Icario from Sutter Health | Aetna, a 50/50 joint venture between Aetna, a CVS Health company, and Sutter Health, a not-for-profit integrated health delivery system in northern California. There, he served as the joint venture’s first CEO, responsible for launching an innova-tive health insurance business, delivering best-in-class clinical care, and driving breakthrough consumer and member experiences.Before that, Steve served as CEO of Valence Health, where he led and grew the business following its acquisition by Evolent Health, doubling reve-nues and scaling operations internationally. Prior to the Valence acquisition, Steve was the chief development officer at Evolent Health, responsible for driving growth, partnerships, and the brand. Additional leadership roles in technology-driven care management, physician practice management, and healthcare supply chain businesses round out Steve’s experience.

Steve holds a bachelor’s and master’s degree of business administration from Indiana Universi-ty, Kelley School of Business. In his free time, Steve is an avid cyclist, traveler, and concertgoer. He and his wife, an award-winning OB/Gyn, have four beautiful children.

This post appears through the MedCity Influencers program. Anyone can publish their perspective on business and innovation in healthcare on MedCity News through MedCity Influencers. Click here to find out how.