The Untapped Potential of Housing Benefits in Health Plans

As we navigate through 2023, it’s clear that the health plan industry is evolving at a rapid pace. With the release of the recent Annual Enrollment Period (AEP) data by CMS, we’ve seen a shift in the Medicare Advantage (MA) market, with a proliferation of product options and rich benefits. However, one question that continues to linger is, “Why haven’t housing benefits taken off?”

In my role as COO at Upside, I’ve had the opportunity to observe the industry trends closely. I’ve noticed a pattern that may shed some light on this question. But first, let’s take a look at the current landscape of supplemental benefits.

Current Trends in Supplemental Benefits

The HealthScape Advisors’ report on Supplemental Benefit Trends 2023 highlights several key trends. Traditional “table stakes” benefits like dental, vision, and hearing coverage are now offered by over 90% of plans. Emerging table stakes benefits such as fitness, over-the-counter services (OTC), and home health are also gaining traction.

Interestingly, the prevalence of meal benefits has grown rapidly, perhaps driven by emerging preferences following the COVID-19 pandemic and the increasing body of research that quantifies the value of meal benefits in reducing adverse health events.

However, despite the growth in these areas, housing benefits have yet to gain significant traction.

The Missing Piece: Housing Benefits

So, why haven’t housing benefits taken off? One reason could be the complexity of implementing and managing such benefits. Housing benefits require a deep understanding of the housing market, regulatory landscape, and the unique needs of seniors.

Moreover, the value proposition of housing benefits may not be immediately apparent. Unlike meal benefits or fitness programs, the impact of housing benefits on health outcomes may take longer to manifest. However, this doesn’t mean they’re any less important.

At Upside, we’ve seen firsthand how housing stability can significantly improve seniors’ health outcomes and quality of life. By helping seniors age in the right place, we can prevent negative health consequences and reduce costs for health plans.

Implications for Health Plans

The implications of these trends for health plans are significant. As CMS begins to scrutinize how supplemental benefits are used, health plans will need to demonstrate the value of their offerings. This could lead to more support for innovative benefits like housing, but it also means that health plans will need to be proactive in measuring and demonstrating their impact.

Furthermore, as the competition in the health plan industry intensifies, offering unique benefits like housing could be a key differentiator. Health plans that can effectively integrate housing benefits into their offerings may have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining members.

The Future of Housing Benefits

As health plans continue to evolve, I believe housing benefits will become increasingly important. The aging population, coupled with a desire to age in place, creates a significant need for housing solutions tailored to seniors’ needs.

A Strategic Move for Health Plans

The health plan industry is at a crossroads. As we continue to innovate and expand our offerings, we must not overlook the potential of housing benefits. By integrating housing stability into our health plans, we can not only improve the lives of our members but also drive growth and retention in an increasingly competitive market.

As COO at Upside, I’m excited to be part of this journey. I look forward to seeing how the industry evolves and how we can continue to serve our members better.

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