MANCHESTER, NH – Hard choices have to be made when the minutes on a prepaid cell phone plan start to dwindle to a precious few and there is no money to buy any more.
Do you stay on hold to make an appointment for a physical you were supposed to schedule and burn through your minutes, or do you hang up and wait until the next month when there is money to buy more minutes for the phone?
Do you call your doctor to tell him about the pain you have been having, or do you wait until you have to call for an ambulance or make a costly emergency room visit?
After all, you need those minutes to talk with family or arrange a job interview. Those minutes are even more valuable during the holidays.
For Tracy, 43, of Manchester, facing those kinds of decision are commonplace. She often puts her health second. Tracy has been homeless and unemployed. Money is usually tight and sometimes it’s not even there. She has been dealing with physical and emotional issues since she was in her 20s. She has already had five kidney operations and worries she will need another soon.
She keeps her conversations on the phone to a minimum and rarely gives her number out, but there are not a lot of minutes on the plan to start with, so as they start to run out the hard choices have to be made. She hadn’t scheduled an appointment with an OB/GYN in years and skipped scheduling other appointments concerning her medical needs.
She was able to pay for the $50 a month, or $10 for five days of unlimited minutes, but wasn’t even able to maintain that after becoming unemployed.
“Sometimes you don’t think about it; I just accept it as part of my life,” Tracy said. “You just figure that’s the way it is.”
Tracy has been on Medicaid since 2012, but it wasn’t until 2013 when she enrolled in the Well Sense Health Plan, one of two managed care organizations for Medicaid recipients living in New Hampshire, that she realized those hard choices don’t have to be made.
Well Sense initiated a program last year that provides free cell phones to members who have trouble maintaining consistent communication with their health providers. Well Sense case workers identify members who are candidates for the program.
Well Sense established the cell phone program to help members make the necessary calls that affect their health and wellness without the fear of running out of minutes on their own phone. A pre-programmed list of numbers, including primary care physician, health care specialists, Well Sense case manager and pharmacy, are entered into the phone. Only incoming and outgoing calls to those numbers are accessible.
According to Angela Ford, Well Sense care manager for special needs, the pre-programmed numbers form a network of support that includes “anybody that can help a member maintain their health and well-being. The whole point is so our members get care without having to go to the emergency room.”
The list of calls includes cardiologists, gynecologists, primary care physicians, chiropractors, urologists and mental health providers.
“There’s an endless amount of calls,” Tracy said. “This has been a godsend. I didn’t believe it until it happened.”
Ford is among the staff of case managers and nurses Well Sense uses to help their members navigate through the services available to them.
“We really want people to take care of themselves and to be able to advocate for themselves,” Ford said.
To learn more about the Well Sense initiatives to help their members, contact Kristin Hagerman at 603-647-8606.