Imagine one city with two neighborhoods and a 25-year difference in average life expectancy.
This startling disparity is a reality for residents of two ZIP codes in New Orleans and was revealed by the Neighborhood Life Expectancy Project, an analysis comparing mortality rates in U.S. metropolitan areas. The report also found that in Chicago, living seven stops apart on one “L” route translated to a 16-year difference in life expectancy. In Richmond, Virginia, the life expectancy gap was 20 years for neighborhoods less than six miles apart.
Income Levels Significantly Impact Health
Life expectancy gaps exist in communities nationwide. A major contributing factor? Income level. This is partly due to the connection between income level and health-related social factors.
Low-income status – a household income at or below 138% of the poverty level – often intersects with social factors that affect health, such as:
- Exposure to environmental risks (e.g., crowded dwellings, unsafe structures, infestation, asbestos exposure)
- Limited access to health services, transportation, and nutrition resources
- Higher prevalence of substance abuse disorders and other mental health issues
- Lower levels of health literacy
So if income can impact health outcomes and overall quality of life, what can payers do to better support care management of low-income populations?
Let’s quickly look at some of the health challenges and disparities low-income populations face, and then review six strategies for care teams to implement to help populations facing these challenges.
Low-Income Population Health Challenges and Disparities
For individuals experiencing financial stress, engaging in health often takes a back seat to figuring out how to pay the bills and buy food. Health risks, challenges, and disparities related to income status are especially pronounced among adults. These challenges also end up translating into the quality of and ability to access pediatric care.
Adult parents with incomes at or below 138% of the poverty line faced greater challenges accessing and affording healthcare, according to a 2021 study by Urban Institute. The study also found that when compared to other parents whose incomes were at or above 400% of the poverty level, low-income parents were:
- 5X more likely to report fair or poor health
- 2X as likely to report a mental health condition
- More likely to experience stress related to food insecurity and inability to pay bills
- Almost 2X as likely to report a chronic condition
Meanwhile, for seniors from low-income households, health-related challenges can be even more daunting. Low-income older adults are more likely to experience chronic disease, reports the National Council on Aging. They also tend to develop more severe need for LTSS and report worse mental health than their wealthier counterparts. Moreover, older seniors also often have more complex medical conditions, require more prescriptions, and need care services that are often not covered and that can exacerbate income-related challenges.
Actionable Strategies to Support Low-Income Populations
Delivering whole-person, value-based care that transcends income level is a challenge. How can payers realistically improve healthcare access and health outcomes for low-income populations?
With the right technology, payers can track and identify populations at risk, and implement strategies to address income-related health challenges.
6 Ways HELIOS Can Help Healthcare Organizations with Low-Income Populations
HELIOS® is a medical management platform that centralizes member health data and aligns all participants involved in their care on one integrated ecosystem. Crucially for low-income populations, HELIOS provides instant visibility into each patient’s physical needs, behavioral needs, and social determinants of health (SDOH).
Here are six ways HELIOS can help payers improve health equity and results among low-income populations:
1. Identify Members Who Need Proactive or Additional Support
HELIOS enhances population health management by capturing social and demographic data through integrations and targeted assessments and offers reporting and analytics tools to enable data exploration and analysis.
From there, care managers can use automated workflows to develop care plans and identify proactive interventions to match individual needs and challenges.
2. Help Members Address SDOH-related Needs
Connecting members with needed resources is key to helping them prioritize their health. However, this can be time-consuming, difficult to facilitate, and challenging to follow up on.
Through HELIOS, payers are integrated directly with community organizations. This gives care managers transparency into available resources and the ability to instantly link members to support. They can also track members’ progress in utilizing resources through closed-loop reporting.
For example, HELIOS integrates with transportation providers, pharmacy delivery services, food pantries, behavioral health professionals and counseling services, social support groups, and low-income housing resources, among others.
Learn how to address SDOH needs across generations with our white paper, Personalized Value-Based Care: Effective Multigenerational Care Management Strategies.
3. Empower Members with Tailored Health Education
Health literacy is correlated with member engagement, participation in preventive care, compliance with treatment plans, and medication adherence – all of which are essential to positive outcomes. But low levels of health literacy are disproportionately associated with low-income households, reports the Center for Health Care Strategies.
VirtualHealth partners with Healthwise, an industry leader in evidence-based health education content. With access to a digital library of resources, care managers can quickly locate and deliver materials that best match a member’s reading level, language, and preferred modality. HELIOS also alerts the care manager when a member has received and opened content. That way, care managers know when to follow up for reinforcement (or to check in if the member doesn’t act on the materials sent).
4. Provide Opportunities for 1:1 Engagement
When it comes to engaging members and earning trust, there’s no substitute for personal outreach. In a recent survey, healthcare professionals agreed that one-on-one communication was critical to engaging low-income patients with chronic conditions.
Technology like HELIOS opens the door for care managers to have more one-on-one time with members. The platform offers a variety of digital options that give anyone with a smartphone, tablet, or computer the flexibility to connect at the time and place that works for them. With options for communication – email, phone, text, two-way file sharing – HELIOS accommodates varying environments and auditory needs, encouraging better understanding and engagement.
5. Improve Access with Virtual Visits
According to a study by Telemedicine and e-Health, virtual health tools can support underserved populations by eliminating barriers like transportation, distance from specialty providers, and getting time off from work.
HELIOSvisit is a quick, flexible telehealth tool care managers can use to fill in the blanks for members who may need follow-up to ensure adherence or coaching on lifestyle changes, medication usage, or home medical equipment. Telemedicine can dissolve the logistical challenges – and stress – of in-person appointments.
6. Simplify Care Coordination
Low-income individuals with chronic conditions or who need LTSS often have the most complex care management needs, requiring multiple medications, specialists, and therapies. Critical information – new diagnoses, new prescriptions, the occurrence of adverse events – too often fall through the cracks, leading to delays in treatment or even errors.
HELIOS keeps all data centralized and updated in real time, including when patients transition between care settings, to reduce silos and foster tighter collaboration among providers.