Updated: Sep 29, 2022
Stark health disparities among racial and economic groups are persistent across the country. Black Americans fare worse than any other minority group when it comes to key measures of health, including healthcare coverage, status, use, behaviors, and social determinants of health, according to an analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Medicare Advantage Addresses Health Disparities
In 2018, Congress passed legislation allowing Medicare Advantage plans to expand benefits that are not health-related but are correlated with factors that impact social determinants, such as economic stability and social support networks, that drive health inequity in our system.
Additionally, the CMS Innovation Center is working to give more freedom to Medicare Advantage plans to specifically design and selectively target supplemental benefits on the basis of socioeconomic status through its Value-Based Insurance Design (VBID) program.
While these innovations are promising, there is a key barrier to success: many beneficiaries struggle to access their expanded supplemental benefits.
Navigating the complex healthcare system is challenging. The most disadvantaged minority groups tend to have the greatest challenges utilizing supplemental benefits for a variety of reasons, including distrust of the healthcare system, no access to digital communication and disparities in health literacy.
"If your patients don't have the ability to navigate the system on their own, if a benefit is there, very often it's unused," said Katherine Suberlak, Vice President of Clinical Programs at Oak Street Health in a 2021 report commissioned by the Better Medicare Alliance's Center for Innovation in Medicare Advantage.
Talking it Through
The most effective way to increase members’ utilization of benefits is by first getting to know them. It starts with a conversation. Step one is building trust. Increasing benefit utilization becomes natural as supplemental benefits are discussed in the context of the member’s lifestyle and aspirations.
As utilization increases, so too does health literacy, all in the context of supporting who the member is, as a person. As the beneficiary experiences the positive impact of engaging with their plan’s benefits, they become empowered to more independently navigate their healthcare journey towards a more equitable future.