Resources like the Affordability Connectivity Program were designed to decrease barriers to broadband internet during the pandemic when education, work and healthcare relied on stable internet.
Yet, the digital divide remains gaping as lower-income Americans either don’t know about the program run by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) or don’t know how to access it.
Equiva Health, a health relationship management platform, has partnered with wireless internet service provider Infiniti Mobile to connect more patients to broadband service via what they care calling Equiva ACP Connect. Infiniti Mobile provides subsidized cellular (voice/data) services under the FCC's Lifeline program and mobile data services under the FCC's ACP.
The ACP is a $14.2 billion federal program administered by the FCC that gives eligible households a monthly discount toward broadband service and a discount toward a connected device.
The duo will function as a guide for hospitals, nursing homes, insurers and other healthcare organizations to advance enrollment in the ACP.
“One of the three objectives of the ACP is for the advancement of health, so the government has taken that first step of providing the device and providing the broadband,” Nir Altman, co-founder and CEO of Equiva, told Fierce Healthcare. “What we're doing is filling that next step of providing the healthcare resources to the people that can benefit along the lines of health equity and disparities.”
The White House estimates that 48 million (PDF) households, nearly 40% of U.S. households, are already eligible for the ACP. Yet, only 16 million households are enrolled in the program as of February 2023, with just over 200,000 being on tribal land. According to the FCC, less than 15% of eligible Medicaid patients have enrolled.
The ACP provides a discount of up to $30 per month towards internet service for eligible households, and that number bumps up to $75 for households on tribal lands. Households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 for purchasing a tablet or computer if they contribute between $10 and $50 to the purchase of the device.
Equiva ACP Connect takes those resources a step further. Patients are provided with a tablet that fits within the spending limit but that Equiva and Infiniti have tested to ensure gets users the best bang for their buck. Then, the device is programmed with all the apps and settings that users will need to take full advantage of digital health tools.
“We also put resources that will help them in their day-to-day lives, including music and entertainment,” Altman said. “The reason for this is that the more this can be part of day-to-day experience, the more people are likely to also use it for healthcare. We imagine this always out on peoples' kitchen counters.” This methodology also helps increase app download rates, he added.
While health is in Equiva’s name, the organization's programs addressing social determinants of health run the gamut. Through various partnerships, users are connected with transportation, housing, food and legal resources.
Equiva works to include vetted medical education materials and care management tools. That may look like being connected with cancer support systems’ digital resources after a diagnosis.
“Care today involves a range of digital resources,” Altman said. “It involves telehealth visits. Question is, how does one access a telehealth call? Through our platform, an individual can access a telehealth call, they can be educated on their diagnosis and care plan and they can connect with resource organizations."
The Emergency Broadband Benefit Program was approved by Congress in December 2020 with a fund of $3.2 billion to help Americans secure internet during the pandemic. A year later, the Infrastructure Act provided $14.2 billion to extend the program beyond the pandemic through an evolution into the ACP.
Households are eligible if their combined income is at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines or if a family member received other federal benefits like SNAP, Medicaid or housing assistance.
“We're helping health organizations provide resources to individuals; in that way, we're helping the health organizations provide better outcomes and we're also helping them improve productivity for their people and improving efficiencies,” Altman said.
Equiva already reaches thousands of patients across over 800 deployments in dozens of health systems including Mount Sinai, Northwell, Providence and Hackensack Meridian.