In late April, I interviewed Antidote Health founder and chief executive Avihai Sodri about his startup’s mission to provide accessible, affordable telemedicine services to people. The company describes itself as a “state-of-the-art telehealth platform [that offers] acute and primary care services to Americans at a fraction of regular costs.” Services are provided through an app, available on iOS and Android, and can be one-time appointments or part of a recurring subscription.
Remote doctor’s appointments are beneficial to everyone, especially in context of the pandemic, but is particularly so for disabled people. Even before the word “coronavirus” became a mainstay of our everyday vernacular, so-called video visits were preferable to many disabled people who could not travel easily, if at all, to a community clinic or hospital. That the virus has mandated people shelter-in-place for extended periods has only exacerbated the need for virtual services like those from Antidote. If conference rooms have been made digital by the likes of Zoom and Webex, then it’s only logical that exam rooms be transformed too.
However accessible virtual appointments are logistically, there remains a significant barrier: financial accessibility. Medical care is expensive, and most people with disabilities have very little money to cover insurance and whatever specialty services an HMO doesn’t cover. Antidote recognizes the problem and is working to remedy it just as their doctors would treat a physical ailment.
“At Antidote, we believe that physical and financial wellness go hand in hand. When people are healthy, they can tackle all of life’s challenges head on and play an active role in shaping their futures,” said Jike Chong, Antidote’s Head of Financial Services, in an interview with me done over email. “When one’s physical health is compromised, financial stress is frequently cited as one of the primary impediments to successful health outcomes and recovery. By providing access to an affordable installment payment option, Antidote removes one of the most significant barriers to high-quality healthcare services, thus freeing up individuals to focus on their well-being without the worry of underlying financial uncertainty.”
As mentioned, users can schedule one-time appointments with Antidote, but there also are options for a monthly subscription and a six-month plan as well. Chong noted the six-month plan is especially suited for people with chronic conditions; an installment plan helps patients pay for services over time in manageable chunks. “[The installment plan allows] them to continue treatment long enough to enter into routines that form the basis of effective, long-term care,” he said.
Demand for more affordable healthcare vis-a-vis initiatives like Antidote’s installment plans has been high, according to Chong. He cited medical debt as a main reason people forego healthcare, saying 50 million Americans are paying medical bills for themselves or family members. Part of Antidote’s business plan, Chong told me, is working with employers and insurance carriers to address high deductibles and inflation through action like establishing a payment plan option. Moreover, Chong explained the popularity of installment plans, for medical care or anything else, are popular amongst consumers because they allow budgeting of big-ticket items without accruing insurmountable amounts of long-term debt. Members of the disability community can benefit immensely from pay-as-you-go plans since it’s often literally impossible for them to pay for things all at once.
Chong emphasized healthcare prices vary geographically, so it’s imperative to identify affordable care options. “To make downstream care pathways more affordable, patients should first learn about high-quality and low-priced referral alternatives near to their locations, then consider any payment plan options,” Chong said. “Antidote is currently developing a tool [that navigates] health service cost and will be able to provide affordable installment options for patient-selected medical expenses.” It’s not trivial for Antidote to manage the backend of these installment plans; they’ve partnered with financial firm Walnut to assist them in assessing patients’ credit worthiness. “Together, we combine the best of embedded finance and proven treatment methodologies to increase the accessibility and efficacies of our chronic condition management capabilities,” Chong said.
Looking towards the future for Antidote, Chong told me “it’s only the beginning” for them as they work to revolutionize modern healthcare, adding the company has “a lot of interesting products in our pipeline.”
“To fundamentally make healthcare more affordable, we need to solve the uninsured and the under-insured problem, where a family’s annual health insurance deductible is often higher than the amount of expenses their savings can cover. One unexpected medical incident unfortunately has the potential to wipe out [a] family’s entire savings and push them into debt,” Chong said. “Empowering our patients to use installment payments to lessen the financial burden of their healthcare costs can increase their resilience in the long term, reducing their stress and improving their overall [mental/physical] well-being.”