As Medicare Advantage continues to gain popularity among seniors, three Southern California companies are pioneering new types of plans that target cultural and ethnic communities with special offerings and native-language practitioners.
Clever Care Health Plan, based in Huntington Beach, and Alignment Health, based in nearby Orange, both have plans aimed at Asian Americans, with extra benefits including coverage for Eastern medicines and treatments such as cupping and tui na massage. Alignment also has an offering targeting Latinos, while Long Beach-based SCAN Health Plan has a product aimed at the LGBTQ+ community. All of them have launched since 2020.
While many Medicare Advantage providers target various communities with their advertising, this trio of companies appear to be among the first in the nation to create plans with provider networks and benefits designed for specific cultural cohorts. Medicare Advantage is typically cheaper than traditional Medicare but generally requires patients to use in-network providers.
“This fits me better,” said Clever Care member Tam Pham, 78, a Vietnamese American from Westminster, California. Speaking to KFF Health News via an interpreter, she said she appreciates the dental care and herbal supplement benefits included in her plan, and especially the access to a Vietnamese-speaking doctor.
“I can always get help when I call, without an interpreter,” she said.
Proponents of these new culturally targeted plans say they can offer not only trusted providers who understand their patients’ unique context and speak their language, but also special products and services designed for their needs. Asian Americans may want coverage for traditional Eastern treatments, while LGBTQ+ patients might be especially concerned with HIV prevention or management, for example.
Health policy researchers note that Medicare Advantage tends to be lucrative for insurers but can be a mixed bag for patients, who often have a limited choice of providers — and that targeted plans would not necessarily solve that problem. Some also worry that the approach could end up being a new vector for discrimination.
“It’s strange to think about commodifying and profiting off people’s racial and ethnic identities,” said Naomi Zewde, an assistant professor at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. “We should do so with care and proceed carefully, so as not to be exploitive.”
Still, there’s plenty of evidence that patients can benefit from care that is targeted to their race, ethnicity, or sexual orientation.
A November 2020 study of almost 118,000 patient surveys, published in JAMA Network Open, underscored the need for a connection between physician and patient, finding that patients with the same racial or ethnic background as their physicians are more likely to rate the latter highly. A 2022 survey of 11,500 people around the world by the pharmaceutical company Sanofi showed a legacy of distrust in health care systems among marginalized groups, such as ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and people with disabilities.
©2023 KFF Health News. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.