Visa Innovation grant winner expands healthcare in Ecuador

  • Seth Otto
  • October 11, 2016
Visa Innovation grant winner expands hea

Freedom from Hunger is growing a network of healthcare affiliates and informed low-income consumers.

“It’s an incredible story that we should continue to shout about.” –Shelley Spencer, NetHope Payments Innovations Team

Last month in an exclusive NetHope Solutions Center webinar, Shelley Spencer from the NetHope Payment Innovations team, and Rob Meloche, Senior Director, Global Financial Inclusion, Visa Inc, hosted an exciting report back from the 2013 Visa Innovation Grant winner, Freedom from Hunger. Ms. Spencer and Mr. Meloche have been integral in the development of the Visa Innovation grant that awarded funding to Freedom from Hunger in 2013 to develop a product that improves access to health services in rural Ecuador. Amelia Kuklewicz, Freedom from Hunger’s country manager for Ecuador, shared the story of how her team expanded access to healthcare for thousands of low income Ecuadorans with its groundbreaking health credit card option.

The health credit card

“We were looking for a solution to meet the urgent need for better access to healthcare services for our clientele,” said Ms. Kuklewicz whose team had determined early on that a credit card, used specifically for healthcare services, was the most effective solution. In order for the idea of the health credit card to become a reality, several goals were identified from the beginning in regard to digital health financing, health education, and consumer protection.

Ms. Kuklewicz and her team collected demographics and conducted field research to understand how target populations chose health services and paid for those costs. They used community input and market research data to develop a strategy to educate the public about financial services and protections pertaining to the health credit card. Community feedback influenced a beautiful aesthetic design of the card itself. Educational and promotional materials were prepared to spread the word that, expanded access to health services were readily available through the program. All of their groundwork completed, they were ready for launch.

The approval (denial) process

But Freedom from Hunger still had a long way to go in gaining approval from the banking regulators, the Ecuadorian Superintendent of the Popular and Solidarity Economy. Kuklewicz and her team made a strong argument to the Superintendency based on their research, and shared the gap in healthcare services to low income consumers that the health credit card would fill. The team also made a case for how the card would provide consumer protections, risk management and support a new model: A credit card that is a separate financial service for use only in the health sector. In the end the banking Superintendency denied their request as it fell outside of their regulatory experience.

“One way or another we weren’t going to give up. We had to pivot, and focus on making this more accessible” - Amelia Kuklewicz

A new approach

Not to be deterred, Freedom from Hunger partnered with Cooprogresso, a cooperative micro finance institution that already had an approved, and established credit card in the marketplace. Through their partnership, both firms successfully rebranded Cooprogresso’s consumer credit card, and turned it into a new form of payment tied to healthcare needs. The resulting product was a closed health credit card, and only those healthcare providers who were network-affiliated providers could accept the credit card as payment.

To ensure the success of the health credit card, Kuklewicz and team shifted focus to outreach and networking. Through a comprehensive training program they quickly increased the number of network affiliated providers by 500. Doctors were pleased to have an alternate payment method to suggest to patients. As a result, patients using the card were more likely to receive full treatment.

Results so far: A snapshot

  • Health credit cards issued: 5,882
  • New access points of sale for health credit card: 586
  • Health payments made using the credit card: $180,347.00
  • Trainings:
  • 16 Doctors
  • 150 Staff
  • 350 Clients
  • Health and consumer protection text messages sent: 28,490

Paying it forward

Kuklewicz shared many of the outcomes from the implementation of their health credit card. For example, Freedom from Hunger, and Cooprogesso developed a new model of risk analysis for low-income clients who require a unique balance of credit limit and income. Freedom from Hunger successfully navigated learning curves related to marketing, government regulations and business efficiency to bring this new product to market. And since the implementation of the health credit card in Ecuador, Freedom from Hunger has taken full advantage of opportunities to cultivate a Community of Practice in Latin America around their payment innovation model to 42 non-profit organizations in six countries.

Read more about the health credit card program in a compelling blog post written by Freedom from Hunger’s Amelia Kuklewicz, Bobbi Gray and Gabriela Salvador titled, Cash or Credit? Every Mother’s Emergency Room Nightmare. And keep an eye on the NetHope Solutions Center webinar series for more updates from this and more exciting topics in the near future.

To learn more about NetHope Payment Innovations, and the work they’ve been doing since 2012 to expand access to financial services to the two billion worldwide who remain un-banked, explore their Community Page.

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A recording of this webinar, as well as a PDF of the presentation, can be found here.

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