Free mobile phones are being offered to tens of thousands of income eligible Oregonians on the Oregon Health Plan to help them stay better connected to their medical care providers and community.
The phones are being made available as part of a federal program in partnership with SafeLink Wireless® and CareOregon and its partner health plans, which are the first health plans to sponsor this program in Oregon. Eligible members of CareOregon Advantage Plus, CareOregon, Jackson Care Connect and Columbia Pacific Coordinated Care Organization will be sent an application and letter in the next few weeks.
Having a good, reliable means to communicate with health plans and health care providers helps overcome a significant barrier to health, says Martin Taylor, CareOregon director of public policy and community relations.
“People need phones to get in touch with our customer service representatives if they need to find a provider or make arrangements for the care they need,” Taylor says. “Also we hope it will help us stay in touch with our members, especially if they don’t have a permanent residence or reliable telephone number.”
A reliable phone connection with patients also pays dividends from the clinician’s perspective.
“If members choose to share their number with their health providers, it’s a lot easier for the clinic to reach people with appointment and care reminders,” says Safina Koreishi, M.D., medical director for Columbia Pacific CCO. “That will improve access and help achieve better care.”
The health plans can also use voice and text messages for preventive care and chronic care management outreach.
“There is a growing body of research that shows automated messaging, like that possible with a system such as SafeLink, can be effective for helping manage conditions such as diabetes, improving childhood vaccination rates, promoting good prenatal care or advising how best to use emergency and urgent care resources,” Dr. Koreishi says.
One example of the kind of outreach that’s possible is the Text4Baby program, which is up and running in Oregon and across the country. Pregnant women and mothers of infants sign up to receive text messages with health care tips and reminders timed to their baby’s due date or birthday.
Phone plan benefits: The mobile phones will include 350 minutes of airtime a month (500 free minutes for each of the first four months). Calls from the SafeLink phone to a special telephone line for the health plan’s customer service will not count toward this airtime, nor will text messages or calls to 911. Menu options on the special phone line include the Oregon Health Plan and 211info, at no loss of minutes.
There is no direct cost to the health plan for this service. A telecommunications fee levied by the federal government funds the program, which is intended to provide communications links to people who qualify through special federal programs. People who qualify for these programs or for Medicaid also meet the income requirements for SafeLink.
There is a limit of one phone per household. Some health plan members already participate through the Oregon Lifeline telephone assistance program and will not receive an invitation from SafeLink. However, they may choose to switch if they prefer this program.
Members should wait to receive the letter from SafeLink and follow the letter’s instructions on how to apply. SafeLink, CareOregon and affiliated CCOs will not make any telephone calls to ask members to sign up for the free cellphone.
Those members who apply and receive the service must qualify every year. If at that time a member no longer qualifies because their household income has increased, they can keep the phone and buy TracFone Airtime to use it.