'Health action' startup launches program to improve digital access for Medicare, Medicaid beneficiaries

Icario, a startup that helps plans engage members in preventive care actions, has launched a program meant to address digital literacy and broadband access gaps among Medicaid and Medicare beneficiaries. 

The program, called Digital Bridge, focuses on three areas: devices, broadband access and technical support. It will provide resources on free or low-cost devices like tablets, access to internet service providers or hot spots and support related to enrolling in subsidy programs and technical troubleshooting. 

Addressing this social determinant of health was identified as critical by Icario in January 2021, Sara Ratner, Icario’s senior vice president of government markets and strategic initiatives, told Fierce Healthcare. Wanting to avoid offering disparate solutions that require coordination, Icario has established partnerships with organizations familiar with the program and the needs of the underserved. For instance, electronics members may be referred to come preconfigured with their health plan information. The program is also available in multiple languages, Ratner said. “It’s a different skill set needed in order to help this population,” Ratner said.

What makes this program the first of its kind, the company claims, is the ability to "connect people using a multi-channel outreach that uses propensity modeling in order to be able to get in touch with the right person at the right place at the right time,” Ratner said. 

Telehealth has always been critical, though the pandemic amplified the need for it. “However, a fundamental flaw with digital health and telehealth is the assumption that everybody has access,” she said. That’s what this program aims to address, and, in Icario’s view, all three elements—electronics, broadband and literacy—are necessary for effective engagement. 

Icario’s program is free or reduced in cost for members of health plans. It is also looking ahead to when the public health emergency is set to expire mid-July, Ratner said, when millions of Medicaid beneficiaries will have to recertify their eligibility in the program. Most state Medicaid departments don’t use text messaging but rather postal mail to get the word out about this process, which is less efficient and cost-effective, according to Ratner. 

Digital access is not only critical to spreading these sorts of messages to beneficiaries but is also in some cases critical to the recertification process, which happens online in some states. 

“The ability to pull in a digital bridge solution in anticipation of this is really important because then it avails so many different channels in order to reach the beneficiary,” Ratner said.