Health Tech, Payers, Community, Consumer / Employer

Icario launches program to help Medicaid, Medicare plans improve broadband access for members

The program, called Digital Bridge, will leverage Icario’s expertise in personalized health communications to help plans ensure members are able to access resources available to get low-cost or free broadband.

Health action company Icario announced Tuesday the launch of a program that aims to help Medicaid and Medicare plans improve broadband access and digital literacy for members.

The program, called Digital Bridge, will leverage Icario’s expertise in personalized health communications to help plans ensure members are able to access resources available to get low-cost or free broadband. Connectivity, including access to the internet, is a social determinant of health, and improving that access has been a key component of population health measures.

Some health organizations like Cleveland Clinic have gone as far as to subsidize internet for people who need it. Icario won’t be helping to pay for connectivity or building out broadband infrastructure. Instead, through Digital Bridge, the Minneapolis-based company said it will connect Medicare and Medicaid members with the resources needed to affordably access the internet. Eighty percent of low-income households that qualify for reduced-rate broadband access don’t realize it, Icario said.

“A fundamental flaw with digital health is assuming everyone, especially the most underserved, have digital access,” said Sara Ratner, senior vice president of government markets and strategic initiatives at Icario, in an email.

Telehealth has shined a light on the key role internet can play in accessing healthcare during the pandemic—and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services has made it clear it wants a multi-channel approach to healthcare engagement, Ratner said. She noted that when the public health emergency is lifted, millions of Medicaid beneficiaries will need to recertify eligibility in the program, which provides health insurance for low-income individuals.

Having broadband to reenroll will be key to avoid coverage termination and gaps, Ratner said. Digital Bridge is using Icario’s multilingual member engagement capabilities and taking a multifaceted approach to help Medicaid and Medicare plan members get connected, the company said. The company is well-versed in reaching people without internet as well.

“Icario already helps health plans with print, mail and phone-based outreach on a host of other programs—we do millions in print communications per year, for example,” said Aanchal Falken, the company’s vice president of strategy and business development, in an email.

So it’s able to embed this call of action in that type of offline communication, Falken said.

“Generally, you meet the criteria for free or subsidized internet programs if you’re qualified for Medicaid, but members don’t always realize this,” she said. “Icario can also provide an initial survey to assess members’ key access needs to most appropriately connect them with the resources available.”

Through Digital Bridge, Icario is aiming to help health plan members also access free and low-cost devices, such as phones, tablets or computers. Digital Bridge will also ensure members have access to internet service providers or programs that offer low-cost or free broadband options, as well as hotspots.

In addition, the Digital Bridge will offer support in a number of ways, the company said. It will help members with enrolling in subsidy programs and educate them on the availability of resources, particularly for those who have little or no experience using digital devices, Icario said. That includes directing them to resources that help with digital literacy—or the ability to navigate online, and understand, evaluate and communicate through different digital platforms— accessibility and technical troubleshooting.

“This can include one-on-one remote sessions or quick support and group lessons with digital literacy programming,” Falken said. “In addition, programs include lessons on how to use Zoom, how to log into telehealth visits, and so on.”

A digital navigator helps people get set up with cellphones, tablets or both on the front end, she said.

“The longer-term training opportunities help build members’ confidence in using these tools,” Falken said.

Photo: a-image, Getty Images