From left: Erick Bett, Angela Mugo, Asafu Thomas and Sheena Cooper
From left: Erick Bett, Angela Mugo, Asafu Thomas and Sheena Cooper

Asafu Thomas has always had the future on his mind. For years, he’s been a forward-thinking entrepreneur with a keen interest in innovation and his big-picture ideas. Never one for shortsighted plans and temporary fixes, his focus is on creating ways to implement positive change in communities across the nation, from large urban areas to smaller rural communities. Asafu is more than just your average businessman. He believes in the power of companies to change the lives of the people they serve, building sustainable businesses that make positive, lasting change in communities nationwide.

One of the reasons Asafu has seen so much success in his ventures is because of his intent focus on the people the company is meant to serve. He’s experienced in market research and skilled at using precise, targeted data to discover what makes a community unique. All those data points also have another purpose, they paint a picture of the specific needs of the community, allowing Asafu to create a plan to serve those needs in a way that’s accessible and affordable for as many people possible.

Simply put, Asafu is focused on people, not just profits, investing in communities at the individual level to help people where they are. Especially dear to his cause are women of color, and for good reason.

Asafu Thomas, founder of HealthPlan USA, expounds, “Black women are leaders of their families and their communities, not to mention one of the fastest-growing entrepreneurial groups in the nation. They’re business-savvy and focused. Black women own businesses in numbers far outpacing both Black men and non-Hispanic white women. They are economic pacesetters who take pride in their work, as well as the independence it allows them. They are the directors of their lives, shot-callers who think strategically and plan their next moves according not only to what builds their businesses, but also what is best for them and their loved ones.”

Asafu Thomas, founder of HealthPlan USA

In addition to leading the way as entrepreneurs, Black women are more likely to support businesses owned by people of color — investing in and giving back to their communities is important to them, and they back their principles with who they entrust their business to. Black women don’t just lead by example, they’re also trusted advisers to their loved ones and communities. The data Asafu found confirmed what he knew to be true, Black women are pillars of their communities, and an investment in Black women is an investment in people and communities everywhere.

Another reason Asafu was driven to help women of color came from the data he found while researching health outcomes for Black women. He found a host of problems at every stage of care, indicating that Black women are being underserved at all levels of the health care system. Black women are at a higher risk of developing serious conditions such as heart disease, stroke, type II diabetes, and breast and cervical cancers. Black women are more likely to be misdiagnosed or have their symptoms ignored by their physician, which can drastically affect their health outcomes for all sorts of conditions.

Black women are also at a higher risk of premature labor and delivery and are 3-4 times more likely to die during childbirth than non-Hispanic white women. According to CDC estimates, over half of those deaths may be preventable. Underlying all of these conditions, Asafu found a systemic shortage of access to preventive care and a pervasive lack of information that perpetuated the cycle of poorer health outcomes for Black women. This was especially frustrating to Asafu because health care is so important to women of color: 79 percent of Black women say that supporting and maintaining a healthy lifestyle is important to them, and yet these women were being underserved, neglected, and priced out of the very health care institutions meant to help them. To Asafu, this was unacceptable, and he decided to do something to address it.

“Health care shouldn’t be limited by a patient’s economic status or the notion that health care is a privilege,” explained Asafu when asked about the idea behind the mission of HealthPlan USA. “HealthPlan USA provides services to any and all people who seek convenient and affordable access to care. And when Black women have access to excellent health care, the whole community is strengthened.” This concept of edifying communities by investing in women of color informs Asafu’s entire strategy, and his research supports his beliefs: Black women are more likely than Black men or non-Hispanic white women to give back to their communities, and an investment in a woman of color can be magnified many times over through her activities in her family and community. Asafu is trying to catch the rest of us up to what he knows to be true: that an investment in Black women is an investment in all of us.

It was with these concerns in mind that Asafu created HealthPlan USA, an affordable health care solution for uninsured or underinsured individuals and families in a diverse America. While HealthPlan USA is not meant to replace insurance, it provides its members with substantial discounts on health care services through a variety of means, from in-person doctor visits to telemedicine access to pharmaceutical discounts, including vision and dental benefits. Whether you’re a healthy person struggling to find affordable insurance or the head of a family who needs care for small children as well as yourself, HealthPlan USA is a cost-effective membership that offers significant savings at providers’ offices nationwide. It can also serve to supplement a lacking insurance policy in instances where a person is receiving limited health benefits from an employer and are seeking to make services not covered by their insurance more accessible. A single membership extends to all members of your household, so there’s no need to pay more to provide coverage for the whole family.

HealthPlan USA is a member-centric program engineered to offset the cost of health and wellness services. Its mission may seem simple on its surface, but HealthPlan USA goes beyond providing discounts on diagnostic services and prescription coverage, including not just vision and dental benefits (services that are often overlooked in employee health plans), but also access to preventive medicine and a health advocate who can offer personalized advice on how to access the best care for your specific needs. By expanding access to preventive medicine and providing health advocacy, HealthPlan USA aims to address the issues that contribute to reduced health outcomes for women of color, thereby empowering them (and their families) to take control of their health and wellness in a holistic way. Furthermore, there is no limit on how many times you can use your benefits, and there are no restrictions for pre-existing conditions — HealthPlan USA offers truly affordable health care for a diverse nation.

Asafu believes that one of the most crucial steps to improving the lives and health of Black women is to provide affordable access to preventive care, so HealthPlan USA works with health care providers across the country to negotiate discounted services for its members, saving individuals and families money on necessary health services. Nationwide, members save an average of 39 percent on in-person physician visits, 28 percent at urgent care facilities, and 21 percent at hospitals, putting the cost of both preventive and emergency care closer within reach. As with all HealthPlan USA benefits, these discounts apply to each member of your household, so there’s no need to take out a family policy or pay extra premiums to extend benefits to your spouse or children.

In addition to the membership benefits for in-person doctor visits, HealthPlan USA offers unlimited access to telehealth services, allowing members to see a doctor virtually in instances where getting a physical appointment isn’t feasible.

“The telehealth benefit is a critically important feature of HealthPlan USA, as it helps make care more accessible to everyone, from people without reliable transportation to those who work erratic schedules to people who live far away from the nearest medical facility,” said Thomas.

Telehealth eliminates the need to wait for hours at the doctor’s office, meaning you don’t have to take time off of work to have your child examined for strep throat or to ask a doctor about your persistent shoulder pain. Telehealth services are also less costly than in-person doctor visits. Accessible from almost any mobile device, from laptops to tablets to even your phone, you can access professional, high-quality care from anywhere you happen to need it.

Whether you see your doctor virtually or in their office, you’ll likely need prescription medications at some point. A whopping 70 percent of Americans take some kind of prescription medication, and HealthPlan USA is designed to offset the costs of those prescriptions with discounts ranging from 10 to 85 percent on everyday medications. Membership cards can be used at one of 60,000 participating pharmacies (including CVS, Walgreens, and Target pharmacies) and receive discounts on prescriptions such as antibiotics, anti-inflammatories, and medications for a variety of chronic conditions. Since there is no limit to how much you can use your benefits and there are no restrictions for preexisting conditions, members are able to access necessary medications for sudden infections as well as maintenance care.

Another substantial benefit of membership with HealthPlan USA is the availability of discounts for diagnostic services. These benefits include typically costly testing such as MRI and CT scans with discounts ranging from 40 to 75 percent off. They also cover lab testing for a multitude of conditions — from thyroid testing to cholesterol checks to fertility testing, you can expect 10 to 80 percent off your lab work at participating providers. With over 1,500 locations nationwide, finding a provider is easy, putting emergency as well as routine screenings within reach. By staying on top of regular testing, you can work together with your doctor to improve and maintain your overall wellness in a holistic and well-informed way.

HealthPlan USA also includes benefits for vision and dental visits, as well as discounts on everything from glasses and contacts to corrective dental work. Through HealthPlan USA’s network of over 20,000 vision care providers and over 226,000 dental health practitioners, care is as accessible as it is affordable.

Perhaps the most critical service offered by HealthPlan USA is its access to professional health care advocates. One of the problems Asafu found time and time again in his research was that Black women were cut off from access to information about their health, which in turn impeded their access to preventive care and medicine and set off a vicious cycle of poorer health outcomes for women of color. By providing every member access to a health care advocate in addition to valuable health care interventions, Asafu hopes to help Black women take charge of their health in a powerful and holistic way.

Women of color are more likely to be misdiagnosed and to have their symptoms discounted or ignored by a physician, and it is Asafu’s goal through the advocacy program to teach Black women to represent themselves and their families when seeking medical care in order to improve their overall health outcomes. Health care advocates can teach you how to communicate effectively with your physician, guiding you on what terms to use to make yourself heard and understood by a profession that often speaks in lofty and inaccessible language. In this way, Asafu hopes that HealthPlan USA’s patient advocacy program will help bridge the gap between women of color and their physicians. Your health care advocate is in your corner at every turn, helping guide you in getting the care you need and deserve.

Asafu’s goal with HealthPlan USA is to create a comprehensive plan that addresses every level of inequality in our health care system by providing services at every step of the health care process. By providing truly affordable access to high-quality care, making routine screenings affordable and accessible, and informing and advocating for patients, Asafu plans to address not just reduced access to preventive and emergency care, but the lack of information that leads people to get sicker before seeking treatment. Through this holistic approach, Asafu means to attack inequality on all fronts, leveling the playing field and giving people who were previously disenfranchised by the health care system a voice in their own health and well-being. This is the heart of HealthPlan USA’s purpose: to give people back their agency and empower them to make their own health care decisions, improving and maintaining their health on their own terms.

Through each facet of the HealthPlan USA program, Asafu aims to address every aspect of health and wellness for women of color — from informing women of their health care choices to increasing access to preventive and emergency care to advocating for patients’ health and wellbeing, HealthPlan USA provides a comprehensive approach to the problem of unequal access to quality health care in the United States. Asafu aims to make a difference at the national level by investing in women of color, putting the power to take charge of their health and wellness firmly in their capable hands. His research supports what he knows to be true: Black women are the movers and shakers of their communities, and any benefit they receive will be amplified, enriching the lives of their loved ones and the community as a whole. An investment in a woman of color isn’t an investment in her alone, it’s one that’s guaranteed to ripple through her community, touching many more lives and making a notable impact on issues far beyond the scope of health care. HealthPlan USA believes that, by investing in women of color, we can change the world, building happier, healthier, better lives for all Americans.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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