We’ve known for years that people within specific populations experience huge gaps between the healthcare they need and the care they receive. We also know that advancing health equity is the best way to reduce these gaps in care and create healthier, more resilient communities. Focusing on reducing health disparities also helps accelerate economic growth and reduce healthcare costs overall.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation cites a study that reports taking strong measures to advance health equity could reduce direct healthcare costs by over $230 billion and indirect costs of excess disease and mortality by more than $1 trillion in just over four years.
Unfortunately, the pandemic increased health disparities, particularly for people from low-income households, marginalized communities, and historically underserved racial and ethnic populations. In addition, interventions aimed at narrowing these gaps in care are often unsuccessful due to poor cultural responsiveness, health literacy issues, and inaccessible care.
But there is good news. Innovative health plans are finding more ways to reduce health disparities by putting social determinants of health (SDoH) at the core of their healthcare strategies, creating better member experiences and higher engagement even within harder-to-reach communities. At Icario, we’re helping health plans advance health equity by addressing these challenges head-on with these key elements:
- Cultural competency when it comes to member outreach and communications.
- The right data to inform and address the impacts of SDoH barriers.
- Placing prevention and wellness as a central theme of engagement strategies.
Trust, Data, and Cultural Responsiveness – The CMS Framework for Health Equity
Recent updates to the CMS Framework for Health Equity support a whole person approach to help plans promote health equity and achieve better health outcomes for their members. One important update is the adoption of an increasingly data-driven approach, encouraging health plans to collect and analyze SDoH information more proactively. In addition, CMS has provided more suggestions for increasing community engagement and collaboration, which includes encouraging health plans to work directly with community-based organizations and their leaders on specific strategies to advance health equity.
The new updates place an even stronger emphasis on SDoH, making health plans even more motivated to provide culturally responsive care that recognizes and respects diverse populations’ unique needs and perspectives. Sensitivity to cultural differences helps plans better understand their members, which builds trust, an essential component for initiatives striving to reduce care gaps.
Health Literacy: The Superpower Behind Health Equity
Community engagement and an emphasis on SDoH data work together to promote health literacy. Health literacy is particularly important for advancing health equity because it addresses many disparities in healthcare related to SDoH, which account for as much as 90% of health outcomes. Health literacy can be defined in three ways:
- Personal health literacy is essential as individuals need to find and understand the information that helps them make better choices for their health.
- Digital health (or eHealth) literacy means how well people can navigate and use digital or electronic health information and patient resources.
- Organizational health literacy (as defined by the CDC) measures how equitably a plan or provider enables individuals to find, understand, and use information and services to inform health-related decisions and actions for themselves and others.
Sadly, new research shows that many plans fail to deliver clear, readable Medicare communications.
At Icario, we never want health literacy to create a barrier between members and their health. Our content is always scored at reading levels that everyone can understand, no matter their education or cultural background.
CMS has finalized the Health Equity Index Reward (HEI) for 2027 Star Ratings. Learn more about this important change for Medicare Advantage plans.
Removing Language Barriers to Advance Health Equity
It’s a simple point. When you understand the message, you’re more likely to take action.
Reducing language barriers results in member communication that promotes health literacy, increases access to healthcare, and improves health outcomes. Personalizing member experiences for people who are more comfortable communicating in Spanish, for example, increases the likelihood that those members will understand the information and feel comfortable reaching out to their health plan when they really need to.
Icario has understood this need for a long time. We offer alternative language options that are not just translated, but designed to be an equal experience, making member content easier to understand and significantly boosting health action. This includes creating culturally competent messaging to promote Health Risk Assessments (HRAs), Annual Wellness Visits (AWVs), and other health actions that resonate and move members to take action.
Learn how Icario overcame cultural and language barriers to deepen engagement and boost HRA completions here.
The Health Equity Recipe: 4 Ingredients for Health Plans to Break Barriers and Address Disparities
Break barriers and build trust, connection, and empathy alongside members on their journey to better health outcomes.
Accessibility in Every Channel, For Everyone
Here’s another point. It’s not just about the message, it’s about getting the message to everyone.
Accessibility is an essential yet frequently overlooked aspect of healthcare. It’s not enough to simply have important health information available—it must also be accessible to everyone, regardless of their language, literacy, or available technology.
At Icario, we’ve created a network connecting more members to the internet, ensuring they get the technology, training, and services they need to access healthcare online daily. All six channels of outreach and support within our Health Action Platform are accessible to all health plan members. That includes going beyond merely offering “off-the-shelf” translation services. Our tailored services also promote health literacy, eliminate accessibility barriers, and utilize inclusive language that considers the needs of all members, creating more personalized experiences for everyone.
Building Trust Through Personalized Member Experiences
And one last point. Nothing happens without a relationship that’s built first and foremost on trust.
Developing culturally responsive, personalized health engagement helps bridge gaps in care by building more trust between the health plan and the community it serves. Outreach conducted not only in the right language but in the right way is essential to building deep relationships between health plans and their members, particularly in underserved, low-income communities. Advancing health equity relies on gathering the best data and using it to personalize the best member experiences. Messages informed by SDoH data demonstrate an understanding of the unique healthcare challenges individuals face in underserved communities, creating a sense of empathy that builds trust and increases engagement.
“Advancing health equity requires not only personalized but equal experiences for every member. We create those experiences by designing every interaction to meet the needs of each member. With the right data, we help health plans build trust and deepen member engagement, creating better health outcomes for each of us and for the communities we live in.”
Troy JelinekCCO, Icario
Icario’s Mission for Advancing Health Equity
At Icario, we know that health inequity is the world’s deadliest disease. As a health action platform, we’re uniquely positioned to reduce disparities in healthcare and promote health equity through our deep experience in using behavioral science to boost engagement and responses, our ability to deploy AI, data, and machine learning for personalization, and our channel-agnostic approach that guarantees member receive the right message, in the right way.
Dismantling health inequity is a huge undertaking. We are committed to expanding our efforts alongside our clients and partners to achieve a world where everyone has an equitable opportunity to achieve their best health.