One medical myth facing Americans is that by the age of 65, when most of us are eligible, Medicare will relieve the cost pressure of their health insurance plans.
In fact, premium costs, deductibles, and out-of-pocket expenses are just as much a problem for Medicare recipients as they are for the general population. For LGBTQ elders, who often face greater health care and financial issues. choosing the wrong Medicare plan can be a disaster.
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That’s where Trusty.Care comes in. Founded two years ago by Joseph Schneier, a trans man married to a trans woman, the digital health company provides health insurance brokers with the platform to help consumers pick the plan that minimizes out-of-pocket costs.
“Most of us approach retirement thinking Medicare will cover us and it will be okay, but it’s a major risk area,” says Schneier. “We decided to build a platform used by insurance brokers and others to assess the risk to older adults of incurring out of pocket costs and match them up with the right product for the most coverage at the least risk based on the individual’s preference.”
That simple idea turned to be a winner–literally.
Last month, AARP Innovation Labs and End Well Foundation selected Trusty.care as the winning startup in a national competition in which startups pitched ideas to help transform the experiences of aging, illness, and caregiving in America. (You can watch Trusty.Care’s winning pitch here.)
“AARP Innovation Labs supports and sponsors pitch competitions in a continued effort to make meaningful impacts on the challenges of aging,” says said Jacqueline Baker, Director of Innovation Programming, AARP Innovation Labs. “The needs of LGBTQ older adults are too often overlooked in the marketplace, and it never surprises us when people who have overcome their own life challenges, in turn, help others to overcome challenges as well, which is what Joseph and the other finalists are doing.”
Schneier was well-positioned to tackle the Medicare out-of-pocket problem. For more than a decade, he has worked in the health care space, so he was able to identify a problem in search of a solution.
“People are surprised to see that health care costs are the second largest expense for seniors and the least able to be controlled,” says Schneier. Indeed, health care costs are a leading cause of a sharp rise in bankruptcy among American seniors. Bankruptcy is “growing fastest among older adults, and almost always because of health care costs,” notes Schneier.
Trying to match the right plan with seniors’ needs has always been a challenge. But the need for a solution has only grown since Trusty.Care launched, thanks to a change in government policy.
“Up until last summer, most people used the government Medicare.gov finder,” Schneier says. “But then Medicare.gov removed the ability to save medication information.” Because medication costs are a key driver of out-of-pocket expenses, the change made it difficult for insurance brokers to project just how much a plan would end up costing each consumer.
As a result, says Schneier, “There is a tremendous hunger for products like ours in the market.” That change also exposed that the market hadn’t kept pace with change. “It was definitely operating like it was 1995 and didn’t mind too much. The change forced their hand.”
The pandemic has also accelerated change, as more seniors follow shelter-in-place policies to protect their health.
“Since you can’t meet face to face, people are looking for digital solutions,” notes Schneier.
At present, Trusty.Care has a staff of eleven. “We have a very diverse team,” says Schneier. “People know from the get-go that this is a space the is by definition inclusive. People are attracted to us who wouldn’t necessarily have a place at the table.”
Schneier says that being trans has informed who he is as a leader.
“Being trans, and especially being trans masculine–I’ve taken that as an opportunity for me to emulate what a man can be in leadership,” he says.
Schneier also sees the inherent privileges that come from being a white male.
“There are definitely a lot of times when it’s a confusing space to be a passing trans person passing as a white male,” he says “I have a lot of layers of privilege that are not obvious to everyone. I’m married to a trans woman, and her life is significantly more complex.”
As just one example of the privilege that comes with being male, Schneier notes that raising money for his company now is a lot easier than it was as a woman.
The assumptions people make sometimes force Schneier to challenge them.
“There are definitely moments where I’m in situations where people will assume I’m a straight, white, cis man and say things that really put you in the position of needing to speak up,” he says.
In the meantime, Trusty.Care is growing by leaps and bounds.
When it launched, the platform had just 10 brokers. By the end of this year, the company expects to have 20,000 brokers using the platform. Since each broker can bring in thousands of customers, the company will be serving the needs of a significant number of seniors, a growth trajectory that many tech firms would envy.
Throughout this progress, Schneier is keeping his sights on what drove him to found Trusty.Care in the first place.
“Our mission is that no retiree should go through bankruptcy because of out-of-pocket costs,” he says. ” We can’t change everything, but we can change what we can.”
For more information on how AARP is helping LGBTQ seniors, visit AARP.org/pride or WATCH the recent AARP Pride Town Hall Below: