Five Things Medicaid Members Need in a Health App

Mar 10, 2022 8:00:00 AM

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The number of Medicaid recipients is on the rise, stemming from a number of forces including Medicaid expansion, the rising cost of healthcare and a volatile job market. With more than two-thirds of those beneficiaries turning to a private insurer for coverage, providers offering Medicaid must consider how to serve this population best and provide coverage and benefits that promote optimum health.

One important tool in that toolbox should be a digital health platform that provides coaching and support for healthy lifestyle and behavior change. Digital health tools are affordable for providers and attractive to members who need easy-to-access support. But with hundreds of options available, how do you choose the best one for your Medicaid beneficiaries?

Start by considering the five things Medicaid members most need in a health app:

Medicaid Members Need Coaches With Understanding of Their Health Risks

Medicaid members tend to have higher rates of chronic diseases than the general population. That’s largely due to economic disadvantage, which impacts everything from housing and food availability to exposure to pollutants. Medicaid also covers 45% of Americans with disabilities, who generally have more health problems than their peers.

According to a review of data in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 55% to 62% of Medicaid members have at least one chronic condition, compared to 50% of the general population. Specifically, rates are higher for heart disease and related conditions like hypertension, hyperlipidemia, heart disease and diabetes.

Because of this, Medicaid members need a health app backed by licensed and certified health coaches. The coaches must have expertise in what lifestyle changes are most appropriate and impactful to improve the health of those with existing conditions. They must also understand how to help members prevent or reverse health risks before disease takes hold.

Yes Health’s coaching team includes naturopathic doctors, registered dietician nutritionists, certified fitness specialists, personal trainers, diabetes educators and health education specialists and more. The instruction and feedback they offer members is science-based and reliable, so those with health conditions or elevated health risk can safely pursue healthier habits knowing they are in good hands.

Medicaid Members Need Complete Flexibility

Many Medicaid members do not have conventional schedules. About 60% of beneficiaries work full- or part-time jobs, often in the service industry where hours may be long. Others are not working because they provide caregiving for a family member or other individual. Many are disabled. 

For all of these reasons, a digital health app needs to be flexible to conform to members’ schedules, rather than the other way around. That means no appointments, either in person or on the phone. Members must be able to record progress and correspond with coaches when it’s convenient for them. Otherwise, it’s likely engagement will be short-lived and progress minimal.

Yes Health works completely around members’ schedules. They can post photos or messages of meals, workouts or other activities whenever they prefer. Coaches provide personalized feedback quickly, often within minutes. Members can also message with coaches whenever they have questions or need encouragement. This on-demand approach keeps members engaged because they never have to wait for an appointment to get the support and answers they need.

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Medicaid Members Need a Quick and Simple Format

Apps, by nature, should be fairly simple to use, and that goes for health apps as well. Tedious tasks like food logging and calorie counting may work for some people, but Medicaid members already have a full plate. They already must deal with time-consuming tasks like applying for government programs or navigating public transportation. They also may have less leisure time than your private-plan members, so keeping them engaged requires keeping it simple.

Yes Health takes only minutes a day to record progress, communicate with coaches, find relevant information and ask questions. The interface is clean and easy to use, and participation is as familiar as sending a text message or posting a picture to a social media site. Plus, it’s available right on members’ smartphones or tablets, so they can take it anywhere they go and post their progress when it’s convenient: on the bus, standing in line at the store or at the end of the day, before they go to bed.

Medicaid Members Need “Real-People” Food Options

Most Medicaid members who struggle with excess weight and elevated disease-risk recognize that a healthier diet could work in their favor. However, when a health app focuses on a very narrow list of foods, or suggests meals that are costly, exotic and/or time-consuming to prepare, you’ve lost your members from the start.

Look for apps that adapt coaching around what your members already eat and enjoy. For instance, if your member enjoys beans and rice, the coaches should be able to suggest culturally appropriate ways to make that diet healthier – perhaps through reducing portion size, preparing the beans and rice more healthfully and complementing the meal with plenty of fruits and vegetables. That form of “adaptive coaching” engages members by assuring them that eating healthier is challenging, but not impossible, and that small changes can make a big difference over time, if applied consistently.

Yes Health coaches use an adaptive coaching model, discerning what foods and activities each member enjoys and offering feedback and suggestions that make those foods and activities a bit healthier. We do not discourage members from following a specific eating plan or diet, but rather work with whatever approach they prefer to make their eating more nutritious – and likewise for exercising and other wellness practices. 

Yes Health coaches also recognize that some members have limited access to resources like fresh foods or expensive ingredients. Coaches take their cues from the meals members post on the app and customize their feedback accordingly. 

Medicaid Members Need Encouragement, Not Judgment

Low-income people face a lot of judgment in their lives. A program focused on helping them get healthier shouldn’t be another place they feel defeated.

Some apps solve that through a bot-based approach. It’s judgment-free, granted, but also void of the warmth of a human relationship that keeps members motivated and engaged.

The best solution is a digital health app that uses human coaches who focus on encouragement. For instance, with Yes Health, interactions are heavy on, “You can do this!” and “I’m here to help you.” When members have setbacks or make unhealthy choices – common for anyone forming a new habit – they can feel safe discussing that instance with their coaches.That open communication allows the coaches to express empathy while also providing helpful suggestions to help the member move forward, rather than giving up.


Tapping the Potential for Change

Though Medicaid members come from disadvantaged circumstances, their potential for improved health is great – perhaps even more significant than private-plan members, because they face higher risk for costly health conditions like obesity, heart disease and diabetes. With the right guidance and support, anyone can develop healthier habits. It’s the lack of that support that has kept Medicaid members struggling until now.

Fortunately, more health plans are investing in digital health apps to give Medicaid members access to health coaching right in their back pockets. Mobile apps are an affordable option for providers, and an effective one for members who feel ready to take action on their health.

Yes Health is currently working with a number of Medicaid providers to offer services that appeal to their members: simple, encouraging, flexible, inclusive of “real foods” and knowledgeable about health risks. Reach out to see if it’s the right solution for your members.