WellCare teams with Shipt to offer free grocery delivery to Medicare Advantage members

WellCare is launching a new home delivery option for its MA members. (xavierarnau/Getty)

WellCare Health Plans is joining forces with delivery service Shipt to offer free home delivery of essentials such as groceries for Medicare Advantage members for the rest of 2020.

WellCare, a subsidiary of Centene Corporation, will offer members in select MA, TexanPlus and Ohana Medicare Advantage plans with monthly memberships to Shipt at no cost. The members can then use accounts with the delivery service to order essentials from several retails.

About 200,000 members across 23 states will have access to the delivery, WellCare said in an announcement.

The goal of the program is to both ensure that seniors have access to the supplies they need while helping them avoid unnecessary trips to the store that could expose them to COVID-19. Seniors are among the highest risk population for severe complications related to the virus.

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"The effects of the pandemic are far-reaching, extending beyond medical care and affecting access to food, medicine, transportation and more," said Michael Polen, Centene's senior vice president and chief executive officer of Medicare Solutions, in a statement.

"We look forward to offering this new benefit as one more way to simplify access to everyday essentials, ensure continuity of care, and help our members stay safe and healthy during this challenging time," he said.

WellCare launched a national helpline for members to call when in need and found high demand among seniors. The phone line received 4,000 calls from seniors between March 1 and June 30, and assistance in accessing food was the most requested service, with 34% of callers saying so.

Twenty-six percent of callers requested medication assistance and 14% requested assistance with transportation, WellCare said.

Traditional healthcare organizations have been forced to pivot their approaches to population health to meet the unique needs of the pandemic, such as widespread social distancing and isolation, especially as the virus impacts underprivileged communities disproportionately.

Experts at Humana and the National Quality Forum, for example, argue that COVID-19 is making the case for continuing to evolve pophealth to better reach those patients.