June 21, 2024

Does a Digital Divide Exist?

Rick Lee, Founder & CEO
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Last weekend, I hung out with my college roommate. He, like me, is 74. Unlike me, he’s a physician; but like me, he’s clueless about how to navigate the vicissitudes of Medicare. It was with him at a minor league baseball game when I experienced an aha moment. He’s wary about our digital world; I’m fully bought in. Which of us is more representative of seniors in general?

The Oakland Ballers are a new team in the Frontier League. They were just created in the last couple of months to assuage some of the pain felt by A’s fans whose team is divorcing the city. It was a lovely Sunday afternoon, so we took a trip to see what fans are buzzing about. Tickets were cheap, but we needed to purchase them online. So my doctor pal pulled out his smartphone and went about securing two seats. The game had begun. Fifteen minutes later, we entered the ballpark to our seats.

Why 15 minutes? Because my BFF has elected to keep his VISA deets out of his phone, securely protected from fraudsters. Auto-populating data to facilitate and expedite online commerce has transformed e-tailing. Younger generations have been quick to gravitate to “life made easier” solutions that cause minimal friction while achieving greater efficiency. Analysts observing the trade-off between optimizing utility and potentially sacrificing privacy/security have labeled seniors as more cautious and untrusting versus younger generations. I don’t agree. Just as health plans judged seniors’ lack of traction with online digital interactions in Medicare as standoffish, so too have they assumed that we seniors do not desire time-saving features that might sacrifice some of our privacy.

It's a trade-off that I am signing up for. Give me more time in my day. Each time I visit the doctor’s office, don’t give me that damn clipboard with a paper survey. Surely my polio vaccine at six has been etched in stone by now. I expect my Medicare plan to know when I had my last colonoscopy and if there were any polyps removed. My vision has degraded. Don’t confuse me with that eagle-eyed, 35-year old that I once was. Perhaps AI will revolutionize this aspect of fossilized health care. Should I fear privacy intrusions? If younger generations don’t fear them, why should I? What does my granddaughter know that I don’t? Are our health care providers and insurers worthy of my trust? Can Joe Namath be trusted? By revealing more about myself, am I sacrificing my privacy or ensuring that my providers will have more complete knowledge of what makes me tick? It inevitably comes down to an ROI on utility. If it’s easier, sign me up.

According to researchers, there is no perceptible digital divide among generations when it comes to financial services. Seniors embrace online banking comparably to their younger neighbors. Why is it that health care executives place such a high premium on privacy and security on behalf of the elderly?

On this topic, there are at least two verifiable truths: 1) Rural Americans are at greater risk of illness and death due to lack of access to treatment. 2) Even Americans in the inner city can suffer from inconvenient options to treatment. Telemedicine and digital health care have shrunk that risk.

44% of telehealth visits in 2021 were related to chronic conditions, which are more prevalent with seniors and in lower-income areas. Lower-income seniors (we call them “Duals") are doubly handicapped by virtue of their age and income. Research (including some from Healthrageous) has shown that the use of digital health services can potentially reduce illness, hospital stays, and severity of disease for this group of Duals. Shouldn’t health plans promote telehealth and online servicing of members?

Two Humana plans offer a benefit that pays for members’ data plans, up to $1,000 over a year. Healthfirst of NY offers a similar benefit to its Duals. A Wellcare plan Dual can receive a debit card with up to $125 a month that can be used for utilities, including the internet. Devoted Health added connected devices or WiFi and data bills to its list of reimbursable expenses, up to a maximum of $300.  These examples pale in comparison to the 400+ Medicare Advantage plans extending a food benefit under the Special Supplemental Benefit for the Chronically ill.

At Healthrageous, we are making the healthy choice the easy choice by removing barriers to care. Denying access via telehealth is a huge barrier. We find that 85% of our meal subscribers virtually self-serve by the third order of #MadeEasyMeals. Our click-through rates exceed 25% on inquiries about Annual Wellness Visits. Our grievance rate last year was 0.18%. Sounds to me like Seniors are all in on our convenient, engagement platform that meets them where they are, as fully indoctrinated members of our digital health care world.

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