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Tech startup aims to connect uninsured with coverage

Tech startup aims to connect uninsured with coverage

With funding for navigators, enrollment assisters previously paid for by the Affordable Care Act, facing an uncertain future, the leaders of a Chicago-based tech startup believe they can help fill the gap.

Advocatia helps hospitals screen patients and enroll them into available programs.

It’s the brainchild of the brother-sister team Laura Robbins and Ryan Brebner.

The pair declined to provide specifics on how much money they’ve raised, or what hospitals they’re working with, but said they have multiple clients in seven states, including Illinois.

Advocatia was recently named a finalist in an accelerator program run by Kaiser Permanente and Washington D.C.-based venture capital firm Village Capital. Advocatia, along with another start-up from Wisconsin, beat out eight other early-stage companies, each pocketing a $75,000 investment from Village Capital.

Health News Illinois caught up with Robbins and Brebner this week to learn more.

Edited excerpts are below.

HNI: What does Advocatia do?

Laura Robbins: Advocatia connects the uninsured with coverage options through our benefit triage platform. Currently, hospitals in the United States spend around $35 billion a year on uncompensated care. And most of that can be recouped if patients were efficiently screened and enrolled into available programs. We provide a software service tool to help provide access to that coverage. The coverage is gained and the hospitals receive reimbursement for services rendered.

HNI: Where did the idea come from?

Ryan Brebner: Working as a navigator in 2013, I saw a huge opportunity to inject technology into the enrollment assistance process to be able to help someone enroll into multiple programs and overall increase their total access to care through that enrollment.

HNI: What are your backgrounds?

RB: I worked for about 14 years in revenue cycle management in healthcare, specifically with the uninsured and underinsured patient population.

LR: I previously worked as an instructor at Illinois State University and then following that, I was operations manager at another successful startup in Chicago.

HNI: Does being siblings help or hinder you in business?

RB: We are both middle children, so that helps. And we’ve gotten along our whole lives. When you have to spend a lot of time with someone, the ability to be both critical and positive, and know when to be which, is definitely a benefit.

HNI: Do you have clients beyond hospitals?

RB: Our main client now is hospitals, and we are starting to have conversations with payers looking at the use of our platform as well.

HNI: You’ve had some recent success in accelerator programs. You were accepted to a Wisconsin-based program called gener8tor, and were also named a finalist in a program led by Kaiser Permanente and Village Capital. What makes your company stick out?

RB: Personally, I look at it and think the big thing that sets us apart is we are a really mission-based organization, helping the uninsured and underinsured patient populations. That’s a large social need. As well as, obviously, also the existing and current changes that are occurring at the government level where we are starting to see grant funding being taken away from navigators. That’s creating a market opportunity for hospitals to use our platform to better assist that population.

HNI: Can you expound on that? As funding for navigators decreases, how could your product help fill that gap?

RB: We have filled a gap by simplifying that process. Anywhere that you can inject technology into a people-oriented process to increase the speed with which you are able to assist someone helps you assist more people. That’s where we have a real value-add, especially with what’s occurring at the navigator level.

Not to get into the politics of it, but historically there is a high churn through the Medicaid program with people falling on and off the program. Sometimes, that’s a very good thing. Someone gains employment, they gain insurance. Other times, it’s the opposite direction: job loss. Something of that effect that puts someone onto the Medicaid program.

Also where we add value is screening for a large number of programs that are out there at both the state, county and city level. As we start to move to accountable care organizations and as hospitals really start to see value in treating a patient beyond the normal course of care – looking at a patient from a more holistic manner and saying how can we assist you with anything that might be out there to put you on a track to better health – that’s where our platform really helps hospitals meet the needs of their patients.

Health News Illinois is a nonpartisan, independent news service covering the Illinois healthcare beat. Sign up for a free trial to the newsletter here.

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