The Open Enrollment Period for health insurance is here: November 1 – January 15
Enroll in a new health plan or reevaluate your current coverage to see if it’s still a good fit for you. You can make the following changes during this period:
- Enroll in a health insurance plan for the first time
- Change health insurance plans
- Change your current plan’s dependents
Still have questions? Learn more about the health insurance Open Enrollment Period.
Modern technology has transformed and advanced medicine for centuries. Examples include the development of vaccines, the increasing accuracy of CT and MRI machines, and the once-groundbreaking electronic sharing of patient health records. Today, in the internet era, healthcare has become more efficient, accurate, accessible, and personable than ever before.
Online resources allow patients to research medical symptoms and compare local doctors with just a few clicks. Telehealth portals allow others to secure baseline medical consultations and services from anywhere with an internet connection.
Though the high price of modern medicine requires many people to rely on health insurance, these consumers can also shop for, review, and make changes to their coverage from the safety and comfort of their homes.
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The Rise of Telehealth
Telehealth allows medical providers to care for patients online through a computer, phone, or tablet, saving time and eliminating unnecessary travel for simple services such as prescription renewals and consultations.
By necessity, telehealth utilization significantly expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic. Its quick adoption, integration, and continued prevalence have led many experts to believe it will remain a crucial aspect of medicine well into the future.
To maximize telehealth’s potential, you must have an electronic device with a camera, microphone, and a reliable internet connection. Unstable networks can result in issues such as:
- Miscommunicated treatment advice
- Dropped appointments
- Delayed prescriptions or medical services
Luckily, unconnected households can now apply for government programs offering free or discounted internet service to qualifying low-income families.
Telehealth offers the following advantages to patients and doctors alike:
- Risk reduction: Limited contact reduces the risk of exposure and spread of COVID-19 and other contagious diseases.
- Quicker service: Virtual appointments allow for instant medical attention regardless of location, whether miles away in the comfort of your home, car, or office.
- Less disruption to your schedule: Virtual appointments also reduce the need for childcare, days taken off work, and unnecessary travel expenses.
- Less wasted time: Telehealth patients do not have to arrive early for appointments or sit in crowded waiting rooms.
- Wide variety of uses: Telehealth can facilitate many medical services, including test results, prescription refills, occupational therapy, post-surgical follow-ups, and chronic condition monitoring.
Understanding the Affordable Connectivity Program
The FCC launched the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) to ensure low-income households can access the broadband connections necessary for work, school, medical care, and much more. Qualified families can receive a $30 monthly discount on internet service and a one-time $100 discount on a computer or tablet purchased through a participating provider.
While some individuals could continue working, attending class, and communicating with others from their home computers during the pandemic, many impoverished families did not have the same luxury.
The ACP has proven essential in ensuring that everybody can access telehealth services, especially people in marginalized communities. For example, households on tribal lands can qualify for internet stipends of up to $75 per month.
To gain eligibility for ACP benefits, one member of a household must meet any of the following criteria:
- Have an income equal to or below 200% of federal poverty guidelines
- Participate in an assistive program such as Medicaid, SNAP, SSI, or federal housing
- Received a Federal Pell Grant during the concurrent award year
- Receive benefits from a free and reduced-price school lunch or breakfast program, including through the USDA community eligible provision
- Participate in tribal-specific programs such as Tribal TANF or Bureau of Indian Affairs general assistance
How to Apply
Qualified households can enroll in the ACP by following two simple steps.
- First, visit Getinternet.gov to complete and submit a digital application or print a mail-in form.
- Next, find and contact a participating internet provider.
Once you have selected a plan, you can request to have your ACP discount applied to your bill.
Health Insurance in the Digital Age
In standing with the times, most private insurance companies have broadened coverage to include at least some level of telehealth service.
Insurance customers can discover telehealth-friendly policies in their area and learn more about state-specific regulations through the Center for Connected Health Policy (CCH) database, a program created by the Public Health Institute and funded by the Health Resources and Service Administration (HRSA).
Expanding telehealth can save money for insurance companies and medical patients in tandem. Access to convenient online consultations encourages more people to seek the care they need, preventing expensive treatments by addressing health issues early. Minimizing how much your insurance company has to cover also minimizes your cost-sharing responsibilities coinsurance/” title=”such as copays” data-wpil-keyword-link=”linked”>such as copays, coinsurance, and deductibles.
The Challenges of the ACP and Telehealth
While it presents many advantages, integration of the ACP with health insurance and telehealth has yet to fully take hold. Of the 51.6 million households eligible, only 20 million have enrolled in the program. About 17 million more still lack an internet connection.
Specific populations such as homeless individuals, the elderly, the undocumented, and people with limited language skills have shown notable reluctance and confusion regarding Telehealth services.
Some healthcare providers have struggled to ensure the quality of their telehealth programs, limited by workflow and infrastructure changes, practitioner availability, and financial concerns.
Though telehealth utilizes encryption to protect your data, online sharing of sensitive information always presents significant privacy concerns. Families who share a single device, others who lack virus protection software, and people without digital literacy face increased vulnerability in this changing technological landscape.
The Future of Equitable Healthcare
As more in-person services get relegated to the Internet, online healthcare will become more standardized and contingent on consumer participation. Therefore, high-speed internet access and insurance companies’ ability to adapt to the changing technological landscape will prove essential in ensuring the quality and equitability of personalized healthcare well into the future.
Review your health insurance policy before seeking online medical attention to ensure it includes telehealth coverage. If you do not have a reliable internet source, make the most of the ACP to secure a cheap broadband connection and digital device. Lastly, if your doctors or insurance providers do not participate in telehealth, advocate for more integrated healthcare solutions or find a company willing to accommodate you.