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Could Free Phones Mean Better Health for Low-Income Oregonians?

They won't be fancy, but they'll be free. Mobile phones for lower-income Oregonians who qualify will include unlimited calls to CareOregon for health-related questions. Credit: Alivmann/morguefile.com
They won't be fancy, but they'll be free. Mobile phones for lower-income Oregonians who qualify will include unlimited calls to CareOregon for health-related questions. Credit: Alivmann/morguefile.com
December 2, 2015

PORTLAND, Ore. - Getting more free mobile phones into the hands of more low-income Oregonians is the goal of a new partnership.

SafeLink Wireless, an emergency mobile phone provider, and CareOregon, the nonprofit that provides health plan services for Medicaid members, have teamed up to offer free cell phones to tens of thousands of people in the hope that they'll keep in better touch with their health-care providers.

Calls to CareOregon customer service will be free on the new phones, and Tamara Pedrojetti, community relations program manager for CareOregon, said there's also free texting and 350 minutes a month for other calls.

"I really see more of a social interaction with friends and family and relatives," she said. "That's part of health care and part of community, that they'll be able to keep in contact with their loved ones. To me, that's really important."

CareOregon is rolling out the free phone program this month through its affiliated Coordinated Care Organizations in Jackson County, the Portland metro area and on the northwest coast. People will receive an application in the mail to fill out if they want a phone, and it will be screened to ensure that they qualify. One phone per household will be available.

As the connection between Oregon Health Plan or Medicaid members and their health-care providers, CareOregon's director of public policy and community relations, Martin Taylor, said there are lots of reasons for patients to keep in touch.

"They may call because they want to change providers," he said. "They may have moved and want to update their information, or establish with a provider that's closer to them."

Phone provider SafeLink Wireless works with the federal Lifeline program that funds emergency phone service for households that can't otherwise afford it.

Oregon is one of the states with the lowest Lifeline usage. By including Oregon Health Plan members, as many as 30,000 more people who qualify could have mobile phones by this time next year.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR