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Unlocking Better Health: The Role of Personal Health Literacy in Medicare Advantage Enrollment

The impact of personal health literacy on seniors

In the dynamic landscape of healthcare, the growing necessity for clear, accessible health information is more apparent than ever. Particularly for older adults enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, understanding complex health details—from navigating insurance forms to interpreting medical advice—becomes increasingly challenging as they age. A telling statistic reveals that 71% of adults over the age of 60 struggle with printed health materials. This gap in personal health literacy not only impacts individual health outcomes but also the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system.

The role of technology in improving access to healthcare services

As we consider the demographic and geographical diversity of Medicare Advantage enrollees, the urgency to enhance health literacy becomes even clearer. Since 2010, Medicare Advantage enrollment has quadrupled in rural areas, where residents often face significant challenges in accessing healthcare services due to fewer providers and longer travel distances. This scenario underscores the critical need for effective communication that meets old adults wherever they are in their health literacy journey. Moreover, the surprising tech-savviness among older adults—75% of those aged 65 and older are internet users and 61% own smartphones—presents an opportunity to leverage technology to bridge the information gap.

Importance of education

However, technology alone isn’t the solution. Understanding the core needs of our aging population is the essential first step before any technological solutions can be effectively deployed. Digital tools must be user-friendly and tailored to the older adults’ capabilities and lifestyle, aiming to enhance rather than complicate the communication process. The reality is that the implementation of technology in healthcare should be thoughtful and inclusive, ensuring that it truly benefits those it intends to serve. 

The complexity extends to education about health benefits, which remains a convoluted topic for many. Over half, 51% of all insured adults, report difficulty understanding at least one aspect of their health insurance plans. This complexity is further magnified for adults over the age of 65 who often face additional challenges contributing to the overall decline in their health literacy. This includes physical ailments that impact mobility and cognitive abilities, as well as social determinants of health such as socioeconomic status, which can exacerbate disparities in health understanding and access.

In addressing these challenges, the shift towards value-based care in healthcare models such as Medicare Advantage, Medicaid, and the ACA marketplace is noteworthy. This approach centers on the idea of shifting focus away from the traditional fee-for-service model, which emphasizes service volume, towards one that reimburses providers based on patient health outcomes. It encourages preventative care, effective care coordination, and better management of chronic conditions. Such practices not only improve patient health outcomes but are also critical in ensuring more cost-effective care delivery—a pivotal factor for the sustainability of healthcare systems.

The need for stronger collaboration of stakeholders

The call to action is clear: healthcare systems must initiate strong collaborations among all stakeholders—insurers, providers, and technology developers—to enhance patient care from all angles. This includes the integration of advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, which can play a significant role in anticipating healthcare needs and managing them proactively. The reality is, the more we can do to prevent diseases and manage chronic conditions effectively, the less strained our healthcare systems will be.

Furthermore, embracing a holistic approach to managing care and treating the whole patient can result in not only better health outcomes but can also improve operations and reduce costs across the care continuum. By incentivizing such practices, value-based care models aim to improve access to care for all beneficiaries, delivering the best treatments in an appropriate and timely manner.

Looking ahead

As we look ahead, the challenge of increasing healthcare access and improving health literacy remains daunting but not insurmountable. It will require unwavering commitment and collaboration from all entities involved. Better collaboration and communication between healthcare payors and providers with older adults are crucial for improving outcomes and ensuring equitable care. By leveraging technology, promoting health literacy, and transitioning to value-based care models, healthcare payors and providers can better address the unique needs of beneficiaries. It’s imperative that these efforts also take into consideration underserved patient populations to prevent them from slipping through the cracks of the healthcare system; health equity being the guiding lens through which we look at all solutions.

Ultimately, embracing these strategies can help to foster better patient-provider relationships, creating a more inclusive, equitable healthcare system. The enhancement of health literacy among older adults and their caregivers through a single platform solution for Medicare navigation can significantly improve their ability to manage health and access necessary services.

Let’s not wait for the next generation to reach Medicare age to address these challenges. Start enhancing health literacy today—it’s the first and best step in preventive care. This concerted effort will help alleviate strains on our healthcare systems, improve patient trust and engagement, and maintain the solvency necessary to support our own future healthcare needs for that long awaited day in the future when we too age into Medicare. Proactive participation is crucial in shaping a sustainable, equitable health system for all. 

Picture: Kasipat, Getty Images

Karl Ulfers is Co-founder and CEO of DUOS. Karl is passionate about empowering older adults to have more freedom as they age because of his own experience helping his loved ones navigate their challenges of aging and struggling to find resources they need to age independently. He is leveraging his experiences as an early leader in digital health starting in 2006 at OptumHealth, part of UnitedHealth Group, and his more recent experience as the Chief Product Officer and then CEO of Rally Health to help DUOS establish a system of aging that makes it easy for older adults and caregivers to get access to the support they need.

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