Elevance Health to offer smartphones in Medicaid

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual care and digital health tools are more popular than ever.

However, a significant digital divide persists, making it far difficult for some patient populations to access these services. That’s why Elevance Health is launching a new initiative that aims to put smartphones in the hands of Medicaid members who otherwise cannot connect to virtual services.

The offering is backed by funding from the Federal Communications Commissions’ Affordable Connectivity Program, which seeks to ensure that individuals and families can secure affordable broadband access. The insurer said that its ACP initiative is unique given is healthcare focus.

Through the program, eligible members will be provided with a phone that offers unlimited talk, text and data, and will be pre-loaded with a customized virtual health experience. Elevance is collaborating with Samsung as well as the three largest mobile carriers in Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.

“What we wanted to do is grant our members the ability to live in a world just like many others, where they have greater access to care,” Omid Toloui, vice president of innovation at Elevance Health, told Fierce Healthcare.

Elevance Health leadership unveiled the program this week at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

The insurer said research shows that nearly a quarter of adults with incomes of less than $30,000 per year lack a smartphone, and 43% do not have in-home broadband access. About half say this is because connectivity is not affordable.

Toloui said that the program is built on the idea that this is a “modern age where lack of connectivity is a social driver of health.”

“I think that what we’re trying to do, then, is turn a phone into a health tool that not only drives greater digital adoption, but also increases health education and ultimately access to care,” he said.

Alongside the applications built into the phone itself, the devices will come with educational materials on how to use and navigate its features, as well as access to a dedicated customer support line. The phone will also serve as a line to the patients’ Medicaid team, which can assist in triaging their care needs.

Elevance will roll out the program in several states this year, and plans to make it available to its Medicaid members across the country down the line.

“At the end of the day, I think what we’re really trying to do is grant our consumers, especially the ones that need it the most, greater access to ultimately help them improve their health,” Toloui said.

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