digital divide in healthcare - laptop and stethoscope

Medicaid unwinding highlights digital divide, creates urgency for accessible technology

Christen Martines | August 8, 2023, Doug Hirsch, July 24,2023

2023 will be known, sadly, as the year millions of Americans were removed from Medicaid. As states reset their Medicaid eligibility rules post-pandemic, more rapid “unwinding” out of the gate is being seen than was predicted.

Even though the public health emergency, which guaranteed continuous coverage for enrollees, just ended in May, 3,289,000 people on Medicaid have been disenrolled as of July 21, 2023. Many people lost their coverage for avoidable procedural reasons rather than eligibility issues. To prevent millions more people across the country from experiencing gaps in coverage—or worse yet, loss of coverage—there needs to be a solid understanding of the types of support, tools and educational materials accessible and helpful to this specific population.

With all the innovation the healthcare industry has experienced in recent years, defaulting to a tech-first approach is tempting. Technology can transform the healthcare system, but it’s all too easy to overlook the simple technology and access barriers that can mean life and death for too many.

Studies have shown that low-income individuals and families—those most likely to rely on Medicaid for their healthcare—have below-average access to Internet services. In fact, more than one in six people in poverty have no internet access. While initiatives like the Broadband Equity Access and Deployment (BEAD) program—a $42.45 billion grant program created in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law—are being put forward to remedy the “digital divide,” these solutions are future state. Many Medicaid enrollees need help now.

The most important thing people on Medicaid can do is update their contact information to avoid losing coverage because of administrative issues. The burden is squarely on the patient because “snail mail” with reminders won’t always reach recipients, especially if they moved during the pandemic. And if Medicaid enrollees don’t have access to the web, they’re not getting reminders online either. The bottom line is there is a massive awareness problem that needs to be tackled along with the access issue.

With these challenging hurdles, reimagining tech offerings is a necessity. How can existing solutions be supplemented with new ways to alert Medicaid enrollees about what’s happening, help them keep their coverage, and benefit from the health tech tools available today?

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